Port and beyond: Essential Guide to Portugal’s rei...

Port and beyond: Essential Guide to Portugal’s reigning fortified wine 

By: Alexandra Stilwell 

A toast to the notable, the up-and-coming and the almost forgotten 

Rich, unctuous and warming, fortified wines are the perfect pour at this time of the year. Made from a base of red or white wine, with the addition of brandy, these wines are the ideal way to end a supper or just to sip by a roaring fireplace. 

In Portugal and across the globe, the most notable of them all is undoubtedly Port. As warming as a cashmere jumper, this rich and flavourful wine is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley, made with a selection of grape varieties, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (or Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. It is an ultimate winter staple, best paired with Stilton, nuts, desserts, and rich chocolate.  

But choosing a Port can be tricky. Should you buy a young deeply-coloured bottle-aged Ruby Port? A delicate Vintage, or maybe a more affordable Late-bottled Vintage (LBV)? Or a Tawny, a sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavours? There is also White Port, which today is mostly used to make Port Tonic, and Rosé Port, a new style of Port made like rosé wine with flavours of strawberry, violets and caramel.  

If you do not know where to start, go for a straightforward Ruby Port and work your way up. Ruby Port is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Vintage Port, in almost every way. Vintage Port may be the undisputed King of Ports, but it is not for everyday drinking. It is fragile, expensive, and only for special occasions. So delicate that it has to be consumed within 24-48 hours of opening the bottle.  

Port is also a drink of great heritage, which must follow a certain serving etiquette. Tradition says that a Port decanter should be placed on the table to the right of the host or hostess. It is then passed to the left, going clockwise around the table until it rests at its starting point. It is never passed across the table or back on itself. So, pass the Port. 

A delicious Port to drink now is Graham’s LBV 2017 (€15.90), the brand’s 200th-anniversary commemorative edition, presented in three colourful canisters. An ideal present, this delicious Port boasts very ripe black fruit and light floral notes. It is a full and sweet Port, perfect for dessert, with blue cheese or cheesecake with red fruits. 

Although Port may be the most renowned fortified wine produced in Portugal, quite a few others are noteworthy. Made in regions such as Lisbon, the Alentejo, or the Island of Madeira, these drinks have a story and reputation of their own. 

Eternal Youth  

Produced on the Atlantic Island that gives it its name, Madeira is a singular creation, thanks to its unique ageing process. It was created by chance in the 1800s when a shipment of wine was refused at its destination in the East Indies and returned to Madeira. The tropical heat the wine was subjected to after the long journey transformed it, resulting in what we now know as Madeira wine.  

Today, one of the methods used to replicate this ageing process is called estufagem, in which pipes of Madeira are stored in the warmest and sunniest parts of the winery where, with heat and time, the wine is transformed.  

Made with grape varieties including Tinta Negra Mole, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (or Malmsey), Madeira is a hearty wine that ranges from dry to sweet and encompasses a variety of flavours. 

With over 200 years of winemaking history, Blandy’s recently launched four exclusive single vintages, including the Malmsey 2007 (€129.90), for special occasions. Like Christmas in a glass, it has an amber crystalline colour and golden nuance, with notes of jam and marmalade, candied and dried fruits.  

The best thing about Madeiras? They do not change once the bottle is opened. They can last for (almost) a lifetime. 

The Star of the Alentejo 

Although lesser known, the Alentejo also produces delicious fortified wines that can compete with the Douro’s Port wines. One particular grape variety is used here, the Alicante Bouschet. This variety was first planted at the Herdade do Mouchão and soon became the region’s most famous grapes. Today, Alicante Bouschet remains Mouchão’s calling card.  

The base of its exceptional wine portfolio, it is also used to make the luscious Tonel-Aged Dessert Wine (€24.50). Bursting with complex black fruit, spices and dark chocolate with nuts, it has warm notes of cocoa and tobacco finely balanced with fresh notes of mint and eucalyptus.  

The Phoenix 

Carcavelos, a unique off-dry, topaz-coloured fortified wine produced on the outskirts of Lisbon, is a rare gem. Its production was initiated in the 18th century by the Marquês de Pombal but saw a considerable decline two centuries later with the city’s expansion.  

Fortunately, this almost-extinct wine is slowly being resurrected by producers such as Villa Oeiras or Howard’s Folly, whose chief winemaker David Baverstock made a unique blend (€50) from long-lost 1991 vintage barrels. The result was a wine with complex, volatile aromas of dried fruits, spices and nuts, and an elegant and intensely flavoured palate with a long and persistent finish. 

Liquid Honey 

More widely consumed nationally is Mos­catel. An amber-coloured dessert wine produced in the coastal region of Setúbal, this rich and honeyed fortified wine is made with sweet Moscatel Graúdo grapes but can also be made with Moscatel Roxo, a red variety.  

In Azeitão, José Maria da Fonseca, who produces the famous Periquita wine, makes delicious Moscatel wines, such as the oak-aged Alambre 20 Anos (€29.90), with aromas of orange, coffee, caramel, hazelnuts and rosemary. 

And now, for something fresh 

But fortified wines do not necessarily have to be a serious affair. They can be fresh and fun! Take Graham’s Nº 5 (white) and Nº 12 (red) Blends, designed for cocktails whilst also being excellent standalone drinks. And Vermouth, which is making a comeback as a fun aperitif. As part of its Fora da Série range, Poças, in the Douro, launched Soberbo (€16.50), a superb Vermouth made to be served with a twist of orange and a large ice cube. A fortified botanical wine that is the perfect party starter. 


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