This week saw the travel gateway open between Portugal and UK. When we think of Portugal, what springs to mind? For many it is the golden beaches of the Algarve, Golfing holidays, 15 of the world’s UNESCO sites, Portuguese tarts or is it the Port Wine? Well, since its said that Port was developed for the English palate, it goes without saying that we should give it a section in our blog.
We want to share some fun facts about this delicious drink and give an insight into how it came to be such a favourite choice of beverage for many. Produced exclusively in Portugal’s stunning Douro Valley, Port Wine is a sweet, red fortified wine. Other port-style fortified wines are produced outside Portugal, in Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, India, South Africa, Spain, and the United States, but under the European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines only wines from Portugal can be labelled “port”.
- The Douro region created in 1756 by Marques de Pombal, an important Portuguese politician, and diplomat, is the oldest wine region in the world. The Demarcated region of the Alto Douro is also considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The area is the third-oldest protected wine region in the world and its produce became very popular with the English in the 18th century.
- The soil of the vines is made up of shale, a volcanic stone which is predominant in the region. This means that during the hot months of the year shale stores heat, and at the end of the day, when the weather gets colder, that the stone distributes heat through the soil. The same happens with rain, the shale stores the water, and there is no need for a watering system in the vineyard.
- In the middle of the seventeenth century, England chose Portugal to be its main supplier of wines, and some believe the discovery of Port wine was accidental. It is thought that in order to preserve the drink of the hot weather during the long voyage, English merchants add aguardente (a type of brandy) to prevent its deterioration. This addition of alcohol not only preserved the drink but also enhanced its flavour. Added during the fermentation process to sweeten the wine and to increase its alcohol content.
- It is here that the Rabelo boats were created, boats designed to survive the strong currents of the Douro river to finally arrived in Vila Nova de Gaia. The main way to reach the wine estates was via the river before the arrival of road or rail transportation between the production point and the main city of Porto.
- In this wine region, everything is done by traditional means. Grapes all harvested manually, and everyone takes part in the grape stomping process too.
- The Douro valley is also the home to cave figures that represent the first manifestations of communication by the human being. In the Archaeological Park of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, which is the largest outdoor Paleolithic rock art complex in the world houses some of the best examples.
- One of the most striking characters in the history of Port wine production is probably D. Antonia. A determined woman who built an empire around her vineyards and who cared about her workers, even funding the education of their children. Known as “Ferreirinha”, she became famous for its dedication to the cultivation of Port wine and the innovations introduced by her in the vineyards of this region.
Port drinking has many traditions invented by the English. But one which stands out and remembered is the direction the port is to be passed at the table. It Sits to the right of the host and passed to the left. It continues to go clockwise till it comes to rest at the starting point. Port is never passed across the table or back on itself – it’s only to the left. There are several theories as to why this is:
- In the Royal Navy, the rule was ‘port to port’, ‘all the way around’
- To simply ensure its shared fairly and no one misses out
- Historically, to keep one’s sword arm free
If the bottle comes to a standstill, it is deemed bad form to demand it. One should ask “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” to be subtle in asking it to be pushed around again. Story goes that Bishop Bathurst of Norwich, aged 93, tended to stall the decanter’s journey by falling asleep at the table, becoming the go-to reference for slow Port rounds ever since. If the meaning does not sink in, the less subtle alternative ‘Is your passport in order?’ may be used.
Whatever your drink preference Portugal is a stunning country to visit with a multitude of options for different types of travellers. The Aspiration Group team are well experienced to talk through about all the options available if anyone is thinking about visiting Portugal. From city breaks in Porto to hiking in the Azores.
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