Ambling along the banks of the Douro River at sunset, you spy a neighborhood restaurant tucked away along a winding, cobblestoned street. You sit at a small tile-topped table, enjoy a sumptuous dinner of grilled seafood or pork and allow the soft lilt of Portuguese and clinking of glasses to drift around you. The best part, though, is yet to come. After the server clears your dishes, he serves you a delicate glass of port as a digestivo.
Perhaps Portugal’s best-known export, port feels as much a part of the landscape as the blue-tiled buildings of Lisbon, the beaches of the Algarve or the Douro itself. Port is new to many, and the label on your bottle might feel inscrutable at first, but fear not. This guide will walk you through the many different types of port and help you decide which is perfect for your palate!
Wine has been produced in Portugal for thousands of years. The Latin name for the country, Lusitania, comes from Lusus, the son of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
While it might be Portugal’s best-known wine, port wine rose to prominence only recently in the country’s history. England, with a climate too cool to grow wine itself, became a major importer of Portuguese wine by the 17th century. In search of new styles of wine to bring to the English market, wine merchants discovered a winemaker who added strong brandy to his wine during fermentation, which killed off active yeast cells, preserved sugar and produced a sweet and highly alcoholic wine. The merchants brought this new wine back to England, and port wine became an overnight international sensation.