The History of Port, by Arielle Moule
The story of Port is one steeped in lore. It is a story of trade, warfare, colonization and power, accidental genius, and good fortune.
We begin in the 1600s: a scene set in England as anti-French Brits began searching for new wine origins. France and England had been on-and-off sparring partners for generations, and the 17th century saw some of their most gruesome battles. At this time, countrywide boycotting of French wines was occurring, and other options were being sought out.
Trade relations with Portugal at this time were blossoming; a royal wedding between Henry VIII’S sister and the King of Portugal opened a strong opportunity for fortunes to be made and shared between the two countries. However, the seas were not kind to the wine trade, and between the ever-shaking boat, hot sun, and frequent piracy, Portuguese wine would never reach England tasting as it should.
Two Portuguese brothers, as the story goes, fortified the wine with Brandy before the trip to England to help ensure its quality. This concoction became a hit with the British, and the rest was history. Over the next two centuries, the influx of British port makers was visible up and down the Douro Valley. In fact, some of the oldest and most respected Ports have British names like Taylor and Graham.
In 1756, The Douro Region of Portugal received the very first Designation, or “specific growing/production region” (like Champagne in France) in European history. This valley consists of three areas: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. Though there are as many as 100 grapes that can be used in the production of Port, five varietals are among the best: Touriga National, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Souzao, and Touriga Franca. Here in Washington, Brian Carter Cellars sources four out of five of those varietals (all but Touriga Franca) from the Snipes Mountain AVA for our award-winning Opulento.
The Douro Valley has seen its share of changes over time. The blight of Phylloxera between 1868 and 1872 destroyed more than two-thirds of the vineyards in that region. What followed was a slow rebuilding and restructuring of the Valley and Port production in general. Even though Port no longer travels by ship, but by land now, that doesn’t hinder the tourism and charm of the area. Visitors flock to the city of Porto to eat, drink, and celebrate the ethereal elixir we call Port.
The good news is that if you can’t make it to Portugal right now, Brian Carter Cellars is offering a Vertical of our Opulento Port-style wines, including our 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages, for your holiday table.
The even better news is that if you see a trip to Portugal in your future, tickets for our all-inclusive 2021 Douro Valley Cruise are available. Click here for more details!