Long live Port Wine!
International Port Wine day was celebrated on the 27th of January and I invite you to celebrate by drinking a glass of Port and to read this article about the origins of this genuine Portuguese wine.
This date was created in 2012 by the Center for Wine Origins, a US institution of which the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) is part of.
You probably know that I started working in the wine sector at a store specializing in Port wine and it was because of this job that I fell in love with wine! It was the year 1997.
During this time I obtained a Port Educator Certification by IVDP and recently I was inaugurated into the Confraria do Vinho do Porto. Talking and writing about Port wine always makes me very enthusiastic and excited. This is especially true when I’m teaching courses on the subject.
But maybe you are confused too… isn't the Port Wine “day” in September after all?
It’s true. Since 2014 every September 10th this wine is also celebrated however this day is known as Port Wine Day.
And the reason for the possible confusion is simple as it was on September 10th, 1756 that the Marquês de Pombal established what is considered to be the first demarcated and regulated region in the world Douro.
The 27th of January is the International version of the day ;)
It’s common to say that Port Wine is the Ambassador of Portugal, but the truth is that Port Wine as we know it today, rich in alcoholic content and sweet was tailored to the English taste. We must therefore look at the history of Port wine as a Portuguese creation, but an English discovery.
It’s part of the school curriculum (at least in my time it was) the various Treaties that were signed between Portugal and England and the most referred to when talking about Port Wine is the Methuen Treaty signed in December 1703.
These Treaties were nothing more than a trade and navigation agreement, which focused exclusively on commercial relations between Portugal and England.
But England’s love for Portuguese wine predates the signing of the Treaty of Methuen. In fact there are written records that the first wines exported to England were wines from the current Vinho Verde region, most likely Monção wines, exported by the Viana do Castelo bar.
There were several factors that drove the exportation of Portuguese wines long before 1703. The worsening of Franco-British relations in the second half of the 17th century and the development of the North American colonies, just to name a couple.
During this time the wines exported through the port of Porto were listed in the English records as ‘Port wine’ or ‘Port to Port wines’ and 200 tonnes per year soon became 6000 tonnes.
With all the advantages that the English had in buying wine in Portugal, it was important to offer similar products to that the English market already consumed. Therefore it was necessary to offer wines that came closest to Bordeaux wines, as well as wines from Jerez (Spain). Wines with ‘strength’, ‘fragrance’, ‘color’, and the wines produced on the slopes of the Douro valley offered this. And, when conveniently "treated", they could withstand transport and remained in better condition for longer hence their already good reputation.
It also helped the Douro River, an excellent route of communication which allowed the wines of Mesão Frio, Vila Real and Lamego for a long time to descend regularly to Porto and benefit from a commercial circuit.
Initially consumed in the taverns of the city of Porto, then by sailors in pubs, the wine had to be intoxicating to help forget the bitterness of life. The transformation into the Port Wine that we know today, a full-bodied wine when young, sweet and rich in alcohol, a reputable product (Ambassador of Portugal or not), was a slow process, made up of successive experiments to adapt a naturally strong and rough wine, in a softer wine that corresponded to the taste of the market and the temporal constraints of travel and of more or less prolonged periods at London docks and in English warehouses. It would take a few decades for the wines exported by the Douro to become a product admired by English elites. It was only when their profile was adapted to British tastes that their demand started to increase, as did the price and won with it the reputation it still enjoys today.
After writing this article for your reading pleasure, I know I’ll be drinking a glass of Port. What Port Wine are you drinking these winter days? Let me know in the comments below.