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More about Half Bottles of Port
In 1678, a Liverpool wine merchant sent two buyers to the Durro Valley where they fell in love with the smooth, fortified wine being produced there. They bought all that was available, and the English love affair with Port was underway. This passion was fueled in 1703 with the signing of the Metheun Treaty between Portugal and England. Also known as the Port Wine Treaty, it guaranteed low tax rates on wine imported from Portugal. This was re-inforced during the Napolionic wars when, of course, no wines came to England from France.
This class of wine is “fortified” during fermentation with the addition of brandy while the wine still has a residual sugar of around 10%. The high alcohol in the spirit kills the yeast (stopping fermentation) and raises the alcohol content to between 18 and 20%. Fortified wines are produced in most wine regions.
To be called Port, the wine must be produced in the Durro Valley near the city of Oporto. There are two broad categories of Port, bottle-aged and wood-aged.
Bottle-aged Ports have a vintage date that is “declared” by producers only in exceptional years; on average about three times every decade. Almost all the aging is done in the bottle (at least ten, and up to fifty years) after about two years in large wooden casks. LBV or late bottled vintage ports spend four or five years in the casks before bottling which increases their complexity and depth.
Wood-aged Ports have several categories, primarily ruby and tawny. Simple ruby and tawny Ports are aged in large oak casks for two to three years before bottling. Ruby Ports are just that in color, while tawny Ports have an amber or brick hue. They are inexpensive and lack the complexity and longevity of vintage and aged tawny Ports.
Aged tawny Ports are incredible, and spend ten, twenty or even forty years in barrels before being bottled. They are aged and blended through a unique process called the “solera system”. See our notes on Sherry for how this works.