The Douro valley has to be one of the most underrated places in the world. Its dramatic mountainous landscape, rich history, fantastic table wine, wonderful food and even port itself does not receive the attention and appreciation it deserves. Hopefully after this episode, that will change.
Picture yourself sitting in a trendy bar on a hot summer’s evening, sipping not a gin and tonic but a delicious and refreshing port cocktail. Not quite the image of port that you had in mind? This will give you a hint as to what is to come in mine and Joe’s port challenge.
Port is a fortified wine Brits have been drinking since the end of the seventeenth century. Although the drink has evolved into all kinds of styles and colours, our port drinking habits have never been more conservative. Usually, it is just drunk neat with a piece of Stilton at Christmas time. The irony is that in the seventeenth century, port was a main ingredient in cocktails. British gentlemen and sea captains combined it with sugar, water and nutmeg to form the ‘sangaree’ (precursor to modern day Sangria).
Even the winemaking technique behind port was considered ‘cutting edge’ and experimental back in the day. Port wine is a symbol of the oldest military alliance in the world between Portugal and the UK which dates back from fourteenth century. In the early days of the port trade, it was common practice to add a small amount of brandy to local (rather thin, astringent) wine prior to shipment to preserve it from spoiling. This mixture created a sweet taste that over the years improved in quality and laid the foundation for what was to become one of the most successful wine brands – port. Although it was not until 1850 that this method of fortification became universally adopted as an essential part of port production, by the end of the eighteenth century the practice had become well established. At this stage port had gained enormous popularity and was comparable to the rich, red wine we recognise from the Douro Valley now. The strong demand for port brought great prosperity to the Douro Valley as well as to the English merchants that had firmly entrenched themselves in Oporto.