What kind of wine is Port?
Port wine comes from Portugal. The grapes are grown in the Douro Valley near Porto.
Port is often referred to as a ‘fortified’ wine as the addition of Aguardente (Brandy) is added during the fermentation process. The result is a sweeter higher alcohol wine. It’s primarily an after dinner or special occasion wine.
Most wines we are familiar with are either names of a variety of grape or a region where the wine was made. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay, for example, are the names of some grape varieties.
Bordeaux, on the other hand, is the name of a particular region in the southwest of France, popular for its wine. Port is also named after the location it is bottled in, Porto, Portugal.
How is port made?
The reason why port is both sweet and strong is due to it’s uniique method of production. The Port winemaking process starts out in the same wine making technique as most table wines.
Grapes are harvested, pressed (in many instances still by foot), fermented, aged, blended, and bottled. There are numerous variations that go into this basic process of making wines which result in different names and types of wines.
But what makes port so different?
The fermentation process is the defining moment of Port that makes it unique in the wine world. In traditional wine making, fermentation requires yeast to convert sugar from the grape juice into alcohol.
In normal wine making, once the fermentation is complete the desired wine will be dry not sweet because the yeasts would have consumed all of the sugar of the grapes and converted it into alcohol with an alcohol by volume (ABV) range of 8% – 15% (ABV)
In the case of the Port winemaking process, the fermentation process is stopped half way into it by the addition of about 25% Aguardente (brandy / grape spirit) The high alcohol content (70% ABV or 140 proof) of the brandy added kills the yeasts, and immediately stops fermentation.
Because fermentation was stopped early there is still a considerable amount of fruity sweetness from the grapes and unfermented sugars left. However keep in mind that the addition of the high proof brandy increases the overall alcohol level of the Port as well. After, the winemaking process is complete the Port retains 17.5% – 22% ABV.