The magic and a little science of port

by Andrew Stein

After learning more, we can appreciate almost any true craft, and port making is no exception.  Which grapes to use, when to stop fermentation using grappa-esque liquor, if and how to age the drink, what to age the drink in, and how long to wait before drinking.

After spending over a week in Portugal, we learn and try many kinds of Port: white, ruby, tawny, vintage, late bottle vintage, and others. One tasting that will not blur with any of the others is from a very small producer in the Douro Valley named S. Leonardo.  We climb up through the vines to the top of a hill on a very warm afternoon.  Inside a small stone building, there are large barrels carrying carefully crafted vintages of port.  Listening to the owner talk about his craft and his port, we are taken to generations past when we taste port that has been aged for 10, 20, 40, 60, and 100 years.

Port that has been aged for many many years takes on new and wonderful characteristics.  The 100 year old port had flavors of caramel, chocolate, a little coffee, cherries, woodiness, and nuts.