Mixology 101: Port

Updated: 29 Nov 2012

Though not drunk as often as regular wine, Port still doesn’t suffer from sour grapes, says Rachel Jena

Proper port
If you see a port that’s not from Portugal, raise an eyebrow. The real deal, also known as Vinho do Porto or just Porto, comes exclusively from the Portuguese Douro Valley and the sweet fortified wine is made from the region’s grapes. Grape spirits are added to the wine to amplify flavours and halt the fermentation process before all the sugar is converted to alcohol; the entire mixture is then left to age. As a result, we get the richer, heavier sweet red wine so commonly served as dessert wine.

It took a war
Port’s origins date back to the third or fourth AD, although it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the wine was fortified. Its popularity really boomed after the Metheun Treaty (1703), when ship merchants were allowed to import it on low duty – a boon, as the war with France deprived England of French wine. The long passage to England meant Portuguese wine would spoil, so the fortification process was introduced to improve shelf-life.

The kitchen’s kindred spirit
Port’s properties make it a blessing in the kitchen. It features heavily in sauce recipes, and generous lashings of the sweet stuff make for tasty stews and casseroles. But don’t reach for that vintage behind the bar, grab the ruby or tawny port instead. The latter is cheaper, and it’d be sacrilege to use the former for anything but a posh tipple.

A potent potion?
Port enjoyed brief status as a magical cure. British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, apparently drank a bottle a day from the age of 14, as it was thought that port could cure gout. Medical evidence later proved this theory completed wrong; reversibly, alcohol consumption was believed to trigger attacks of gout. Whoops.

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