Recently we’ve been really into Port and fortified wines in general. Fist, let’s we just acknowledge how awesome the word fortified is. It’s such a good word-very masculine and enhanced and improved sounding. Wine is a delicious entity in its own right, but consider the impact when it is preceded by the word fortified. It becomes an improved version of an already amazing thing.
Technically speaking, a fortified beverage is one that receives an addition of hard alcohol to stop fermentation. In other words, adding hard alcohol kills yeast that would otherwise be busily chomping on sugar and converting grape juice to wine. Since the yeast don’t have the opportunity to eat all the sugar, the generous leftovers give fortified wines, like Port, their sweetness. And as the spiked addition goes, it’s usually grape-based too. A distilled grape, which is more commonly known as brandy. This post is the first in a series of fortifieds, so brace yourself for awesome.
Port is from Oporto, the aptly named harbor city in Northern Portugal that has been a hub in the port (and various other) trade for over 300 years. However, the grapes that make Port are actually grown several miles inland, in a region called Douro.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. From the beginning, Oporto was well situated to become an important commercial hub. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers where he continuously references the necessary conditions and fortuitous events that precede elite talent and success. Portugal had some big breaks early on, beginning with their ruler in early period of the 13th Century, King Dinis. In reading about King Denis, his acumen and ambition were impressive. He was forward thinking and especially keen on establishing a Naval/Commercial presence on the port. And it wasn’t just the ambition, it was the execution. He is widely credited for laying the framework for what is now the second largest city in Portugal. Oporto was the byproduct of a King who probably could have been a logistics engineer for FedEx. In 1371, the Portuguese lead an exploration of the Canary Islands, sending 3 vessels to the the Northwestern Coast of Africa. It was their first sea voyage, and solidified their place in Europe as the preeminent country for innovation and exploration in the field. Or, rather, on the sea.
Portugal feels a great bit of gratitude for King Dinis. But so should wine lovers.