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History Of Port

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Port wine is a fortified wine originating from the Douro Valley in the North of Portugal.

In the early 1600’s, Luis XIV’s chancellor, Monsieur Colbert, restricted trading between the mainland of Europe and England. To satisfy the thirst of the British people for wine and other European products, wool merchants traded from the coastal town of Viana De Castello, north of Oporto. They traded for a range of products including dried fruits, olive oil and dry Portuguese wines.

The wines traded from around Viana de Castello were relatively dry light wines, which did not travel well on their voyage to England. These wines were only 9-10% by volume and were shipped in barrels; which meant that many wines suffered from large temperature variations, oxidation and yeast contaminations. The traders therefore began sourcing for fuller more robust wines from the Douro valley. With the increased demand for Douro wines, traders specializing in wine exports to Britain, such as Job Bearsley in 1692, began to move their companies to the coastal town of Oporto. To solve the problem of tainted wines arriving in Britain, the shippers began adding brandy to stabilize the wine on its journey. Later on in history they began to use neutral grape spirit to preserve the natural flavours of the wine. The sweet Port wine that we know and love today, evolved over several decades, as the demand in Britain for sweeter ‘Porto’ wines increased. Sales to Great Britain were further helped by the Methuen treaty of 1703, which gave Portuguese wines a trade advantage over the heavily taxed French wines, due to the poor relations at that time between France and Britain.

Traditionally winemaking in the Douro has involved the fermentation of grape must, using simple and empirical methods, in stone ‘lagares’ or treading tanks, to produce ‘Port Wine’. Although this traditional method is still the reference point for producing quality port wine, the port wine industry has utilized many other methods in its long history.

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Edited December 9, 2007 (diff)

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