Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Port: The First English Winemaking Success?

The Douro River, home to some of the world's most spectacular vineyards.
It's English wine week! So here is something about Port...

From Portugal...

Yep.

Well actually, it's not quite as much of a stupid idea as you might think. It's hard to find a wine region outside of England, which is so dominated by the English.

Since 1386, England and Portugal have been trading closely with one-another, when the Treaty of Windsor was established. It wasn't long before many English merchants moved over to Portugal to set up shop and who can blame them!? With so many cheap holidays to be had in the Algarve...

Port as we know it today wasn't just invented overnight though. English merchants started off by shipping cheap, light wine back over to the UK. Gradually, the wines that were being imported to England, by the English (see, there's a theme evolving here), from Portugal, became more and more full-bodied and robust. Because these wines were sourced from the upper Douro, the shippers centred themselves around Porto, near the mouth to the River Douro, where they still are today.

How then, did wine become fortified, as we know it today? Well, this is much to do with the shipping of the wines. Another thing which is thanks to Mr Englishman...

In order to stabilise the wines as they traveled from Portugal to England by boat, shippers would sometimes add a bit of grape-spirit or Brandy. This would prevent any secondary fermentation starting up on the journey. Gradually, as people wised-up to the effects that this process had on the wine, they started to add the grape-spirit earlier, before the wine had finished its initial fermentation. This meant that there was sugar left in the wine, resulting in a sweeter and much more fresh style.

It was in 1820 that the practise of fortifying these wines really caught on, because it was such an amazing vintage that all following vintages had to fortify, just so they were comparable.

Fast forward a bloody long time (194 years) and the Brits are still incredibly dominant in the land of Port. Characters such as Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate partnership and the man behind Taylors Port, still run the region to this day. English through and through.

So although wines produced in our drizzly island are now starting to do very well, with other countries saying "finally, the English are producing something drinkable" - remember, we have been producing stunning wine for years. We just had to do it in another country...

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