Porto, or “port” as it is known in English, is made in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. There are many grapes port-makers are allowed to use, but the most common are Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Touriga Francesca and Touriga Nacional.
Port was a byproduct of the ongoing wars between France and England. Without wines from France, the English were forced to look elsewhere to satisfy demand. Portugal provided a good alternative, but the long boat trip from Portugal often resulted in spoiled wine. To combat spoilage, winemakers began adding high-alcohol aguardente to their wines to stop fermentation, leaving a more sturdy, higher alcohol wine with some residual sugar. These new fortified wines could make the trip no problem!
While there are numerous varieties of port being made today, the styles most commonly found in the US include vintage ports, ruby ports and tawny ports. Vintage ports are bottled from a single production year, while Ruby ports can be made by blending various vintages together. Ruby also has the added quality of using younger wines which offer deeper ruby color and rich fruity flavors. Tawny ports can also use blends of vintages, and are also aged in wooden barrels, exposing the wine to air which slowly oxidizes the wine, turning the color more of a coppery-brown, and adding a delicious nutty flavor.
Of the many producers available in the US, we’ve found Quinta do Infantado to offer some of the most interesting ports at the most attractive prices. Quinta do Infantado is unusual in that they are a small estate that bottles their own ports. The brother and sister team of João and Catherine Roseira are famous for making their ports a bit drier than average, but with a marvelous richness of fruit. Their medium-dry Tawny, is a blend of 2 to 3 vintages and is wonderfully silky and elegant, with notes of golden raisins, toffee and roasted hazelnuts.
Typically a port like this would be served after dinner, but not with a very sweet dessert. Instead, it would pair well with a rich and salty assortment of cheeses (especially sweet blues), fresh dates, dried fruits like figs and crunchy walnuts or hazelnuts. (Try Quinta do Infantado’s Ruby Port in this tasty Smoking Bishop recipe during Seville orange season!)
Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.