During my recent trip to Portugal not just I had the chance to taste their local food, I also had the opportunity to join a guided tour inside Porto’s famous port winery – Ferreira. To be honest, my personal knowledge on the wine topic is extremely limited and I have never tried port wines before. This tour let me have a great insight to how these fantastic port wines are produced.
Note that this is not a comprehensive guide to port wines but more of a summary of what I’ve learnt during the guide. Enjoy!
Located just within a few minutes away from the Duoro River, Ferreira is widely considered as one of Porto’s oldest port winery. This wine lodge and cellar was founded by the Guedes family and was the only family-owned port wine company in Portugal.
The process of producing the port wine pretty much revolves around this part of Portugal, specifically the northern area. Ferreira owns over 200,000 hectares of land in the region, of which around 15% are dedicated to grape plantations. The temperatures and humidity of Porto all-year round make an ideal condition for grapes to grow and process.
Stepping in Ferreira was quite an unusual experience altogether. Inside the brewery was pretty much dim with an overwhelming yet pleasant kind of smell which smelled like a mixture of both wine and very old wood mixed together. It’s not a criticism as I really like it! It’s also very dark inside the cellar for a reason, as light would affect the overall quality of the port wine.
Port wines are considered fortified wines, which basically means that grape spirits are added to stop fermentation and increase the alcohol content of the wine. This results in a much sweeter note, more intense and distinct flavour. Before the wine is being bottled, the port has to go through an aging process in a cellar.
There are mainly 2 ways which port wines are being produced, namely bottled-aged and barrel-aged. Let’s take a closer look at this two types of port.
The bottle-aged port are made with one thing in mind. The aging process will largely take place in the bottle. Such port are sealed to prevent exposure from air. These are usually more expensive to buy off the shelf also. Over the years and as part of the aging process there will be gradual loss of color but the end result would be a smoother tasting wine being produced.
And then, there is Vintage Port, which only around 2-3% are accounted off the overall port production. Not every year a Vintage port would be produced and it’s usually bottled and aged for minimum of 10 years (not inclusive of the 2-3 years of aging in barrels) before released as a Vintage Port.
There is another kind of vintage, known as Late-Bottled Vintage, which basically are port wines meant to be produced as a vintage but due to lack of demand and these are left in the barrel longer than expected before bottling it. It’s ideal for those who wants to have a taste of vintage without waiting for that long of a period. That said, the quality of the taste is “capped” after a certain period of time so this is not the type of wine meant to pass down from one generation to the other.
For both vintage and late-vintage bottles, the best way to store these wines would be to place them horizontally, parallel to the ground instead of upright. In general, exposing the port to oxygen will reduce the overall quality hence as a rule of thumb, the older the wine, the sooner you should consume it after opening.
Rather different as compared to the bottle-aged counterpart, these port wines are left to be matured in wooden barrels with slight exposure to oxygen, allow the port to be oxidate and lose color at a faster pace. However, most of these port do not improve in terms of taste over time. These debunks the common urban myth that wines should be kept for as long as possible to be better.
Inside the cellar, there are no stairs between level to level. Instead, slopes are used for a very good reason – to allow the rolling of the barrels from one point to another, all the way to the port..
Back in the days, the wine barrels are loaded up onto a Rabelos (above), a traditional boa used to transport barrels of port down the River Douro for storage and left aging in caves at Vila Nova de Gaia.
We ended the session with a wine-tasting of the ruby and white port wines. Having walked through the entire winery understanding how port wines are produced, the urge to taste the wines pretty much heightens so this is indeed a good opportunity to give these port wines a taste.
I first tried the Ruby port which is the cheapest of the lot but definitely not cheap on taste. It’s age is less than 3 years in general and comes with a hint of spicy note and delievers a dry note to the palette. Instead of being stored in wood barrels after fermentation, the Ruby is stored in cement tank to retain it’s rich color. It’s sweet in taste and quite strong in alcohol content.
In comparison, the White port is my favourite among the two. Made from white grapes, I like the overall smoothness and the subsequent sweet taste that stays in the mouth. I like it so much that I actually bought a coupe of the White port back to Singapore!
I was glad to be able to tour Ferreiraand enlighten myself with some knowledge of how Port Wines are being produced. If only I had the opportunity to visit a grape farm in Porto. That would be even more perfect. Having said that, I now have a better understanding on port wines, as well as knowing some brief difference as to how the various types of wines differ from one another. If you are visiting Porto someday, do remember to drop by this popular winery a visit. I am sure you will find the tour very fruitful, just like the glass of wine that you are going to taste at the end of the tour.