The Birth and History of Port

Port takes its name from the city of Oporto that is situated at the mouth of the 560-mile long Rio Douro or River of Gold. Although one can easily find this variation of wine in the different parts of the world, be it Goa, India or Cape Town, South Africa. But only the Portuguese have the full rights of calling their wine as Port or Porto (just as only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne).

Portugal is blessed with tremendous varieties of grapes and hence the usage of wine is their culture. Strabo, a 63 BC, Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian mentioned in his writing that people in north west of the Iberian Peninsula were already drinking wine two thousand years ago. When the Romans came to this neighbourhood in second century, they grew vines and made wines on the banks of River Douro which is now famous for Port. The kingdom in 1143 AD also saw the export of wine. Though Port was unknown to the rest of the world till 17th century and only got the fame once they started getting shipped. By the beginning of the 17th-century, they were shipping as many as 1,200,000 cases of wine down the Douro River to Oporto each year,

The Treaty of Windsor between England and Portugal in 1386 established a close

political, military and commercial alliance which gave rights to the merchants to reside in their respective territories and trade on equal terms with its own subjects. English merchants settled in Portugal and Portugese merchants in England. English started to develop the taste and flavour of the local wines and started to export to their home.

Stilton cheese and Port wine
Stilton cheese and Port wine | Picture Courtesy 

The merchants started to flourish as the English started falling in love with the flavour but they had to travel inlands on the Douro River in search of better quality wines. They found on the upper Douro, amid rocky hills and hot climate, more full bodied and robust wines.

But there was one major challenge; these vineyards were located hundreds of miles away from the Viana do Castello, the commercial hub of the English merchants. The solution was to carry wine down to Oporto, the city right by the Atlantic Ocean where it was loaded onto ships travelling to England. This is how the wine got its name “Oporto wine or “port”. Since, this wine had to travel across sea; it was ‘fortified’ with a dash of brandy. The earliest recorded shipment of wine under this name took place in 1678.

With its tremendous success, as a result of the high demand and growing appetite for this wine on English territory, and as it happened with all great wines, Port Wine quickly became threatened by the rise of poor imitations, fraud and infractions. This lead to a huge price drop and a large decline of the British demand. Since then, the Portuguese government has introduced various measures to ensure the protection of the Douro wine farmers, the quality of the product, to avoid fraud, to balance production and trade, and to establish prices.

Fortunately, Port Wine was able to recover and maintain its reputation throughout history and is now one of the finest and most appreciated wines in the world.

Decanting Port Wine | Picture Courtesy

One of the most well-known pioneers in the Douro wine trade was Peter Bearsley, son of the founder of Taylor’s. It’s said he was the first English wine merchant to make the hazardous trip into the upper Douro in search of the best wines. His family was the first to buy land there and start manufacturing their own wine. The estate still belongs to the Taylor family and is commemorated in the Taylor’s First Estate Reserve Port.

Next came the period for setting the fortification standards. By 1850, most Port wine was fortified with brandy during the fermentation stage. Not all merchants encouraged this practice to start with, but the consumers were in favour of the sweeter, more alcoholic wines that were capable of ageing.

In my opinion, Taylor’s is the most amazing port wine one can ever have and to know more about their wine go to their websiteThe best way to enjoy Port is with salty cheese, as the wine is a bit sweet. I believe this the best match.


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