Port wine is arguably the world’s favourite fortified wine. Despite its popularity, Port remains something of a mystery to many wine lovers. There are a lot of variables in Port production that make it such a unique drink, and one important aspect of that is the grape varieties used. This quick guide will get you up to speed on the different grapes that make Port so special.
Port wine blends
Port wine is a blend of different grape varieties. Some red wine blends are very well known among wine lovers, particularly the Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is not the case for Port, for a number of reasons:
- The number of grapes permitted in Port wine far exceeds Bordeaux, Rioja or other regions.
- The grapes themselves are relatively obscure and not widely known outside of Portugal.
The region’s official regulations authorise over 80 individual grape varieties to be used when making Port wines. Of these, almost 30 are recommended for common use. If this seems overwhelming: You’re right, but don’t worry. We have narrowed things down to just five key grape varieties, all of which are black grapes. Get your head around these few varieties and you will have come a long way in understanding Port.
Port grape varieties
- Tinta Roriz, better known as Tempranillo, gives elegance and finesse to the blend. The grape is popular in Port because it offers a relatively high yield in comparison to other varieties grown here. The major downside of Tinta Roriz is that it can easily fall victim to poor weather conditions in the vineyard, and its quality can vary widely from one vintage to another.
- Touriga Nacional is probably the region’s finest grape variety. It produces voluptuous wines that are highly concentrated in colour, aroma and flavour and full-bodied. Yields are incredibly low, particularly when compared with alternatives such as Tinta Roriz, and as such this is quite an expensive grape to cultivate. Touriga Nacional is thus used in the best Port wines, and it is very much a case of quality over quantity.
- Touriga Franca is another top varietal, capable of making premium wines. It grows best in warm environments, and when it reaches optimal ripeness it produces full-bodied wines that are deep in colour and full of flavour and aroma. This is the most widely planted grape in the Douro region where Port is produced.
- Tinto Cão lends tannin to the blend, producing Port wines that are capable of extensive ageing. It ripens late in the growing season, and at that it produces very small bunches of small grapes. Despite its appearance, this is a tough grape that is capable of withstanding a number of troublesome vineyard diseases and pests.
- Tinta Barroca is a large-berried grape, though has a thin skin and thus can become easily dehydrated in very hot weather. The propensity to dehydrate and raisin is a positive point in making Port, as it leads to higher sugar levels when it comes time to producing the wine. Tinta Barroca gives Port wines body and structure, with a soft fruity character.
So that’s it: Five key grapes you should know to better understand Port. Did you know any of these grapes before? Have you tried any other wines that are produced from these grape varieties?