Oporto? Porto? Is this the right city? Where am I?
A view in Porto with the Ponte Dom Luis Bridge
A local told me that the Portuguese speak really fast, so when they translated “Oporto”, foreigners only heard “Porto”. This explains why Porto is more commonly seen (even though some languages still call it Oporto). Regardless of the pronunciation, both mean “The Harbour”. This makes sense, given that Porto lies across a long stretch of the Duoro River. There are so many things to do it Porto, like seeing the Harry Potter library (aka Livraria Lello), towers, and cathedrals.
The Harry Potter Library – A challenging picture to take with hundreds of tourists roaming about!
However, the one thing I couldn’t miss out on was visiting Vila Nova de Gaia to do a Port wine tour. It does originate from Porto, after all! I haven’t had many encounters with port wine until this excursion, but I knew it was a deliciously sweet, rich wine like our Canadian dessert ice wine. In order to create a port wine, you need to have it fortified or it will turn into a vinegar (and nobody wants that). The story behind this is because the liquids were transferred from city to city on boats, and because of osculation (changing of temperatures), they had to find a way to preserve it. Hence fortification! It is uncertain who actually created this technique, but it is said that the Portuguese had some help from the English.
Just like Champagne is not real champagne unless it comes from Champagne, France, real port wine isn’t considered real unless it is made in Porto, Portugal. For port wines, they use a Portuguese or French oak and ferment it for five days. To stop the process, they add 77% brandy to the mixture and once it is bottled, the aging process is over. The only exception to this are the vintage port wines.
The many colours of Port Wine
There are several types of port wine – ruby, white, tawny, and vintage – which can come as a red or white wine, but even the more recent and controversial rosé (which breaks tradition and isn’t considered a “real” port wine by experts).
Port wine – white, rosé, tawny, and vintage
Ruby is a mix of wines, in which the ages can range from 3-7 years. It tends to be red and has less contact with the wood and oxygen to maintain its colour and flavours, keeping it fruity and “youthful”. Similarly, white port wine can have a blend of wines with different ages ranging from 3-7 years, but it only uses white grapes. Tawny wines can have a blend of multiple years, ranging from 3-30 years, but they tend to have more contact with wood and oxygen. This results in a more lighter amber colour wine and keeping it in the barrels longer increases the flavours from the wood, spices, and fruits. It can also have a mix of white and ruby ports. For vintage wines, the grapes can only come from a single vintage and are bottled in two years without being filtered. Interestingly, in one of the wineries we visited, they had some lights on the table so that we could examine the clarity of our port wines. Vintage wines tend to have sediments in them as they age!
Vintage port wine tends to have sediments
Vintage wines tend to change colour and taste better as they age, so you can keep them for decades. However, once opened, they have to be consumed within 24-72 hours. The other three types of port wine can be be kept for longer periods. Good to know!
If you’re ever in Porto, I highly recommend visiting some wineries or doing a port wine tour. The views are beautiful, you get to learn lots about port wine, and best of all you get to sample all the different types.