All About Portuguese Port

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Douro Environmental Characteristics

Vines are grown on terraces on steep slopes below 450m, in schistose soil containing high levels of granite. Climatic conditions encompass both extremes; hot summers with temperatures above 37°C and freezing winters. Rainfall varies from 400mm – 1000mm.

Grape Varieties

Current European Union (EU) regulation permits 15 red and 14 white varieties for port cultivation. Touriga Nacional is considered to the most important red variety, as it contains high sugar levels and produces highly colored, tannic wines with fruity aromas. Other varieties include Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francisca and Bastardo.

White cultivars include Codega, Rabigato and Malvasia. White and Red varieties are often grown on the same vineyard, and are combined at harvest for crushing.


Harvest procedures are similar to those for Sherry grapes. Harvesting occurs from August through to October, and is performed totally by hand, as a consequence of the steep terrain and terraces vines grow upon. Grapes are picked when analysis confirms high levels of dissolved solids (sugars), which are required by law to yield musts with at least 11% potential alcohol, although much higher levels (12 – 14%) are common. The attainment of such sugar levels is also desirable for the optimum production of pigments, polyphenols and fruit flavors. Harvested grapes are placed in small steel bins for transportation to the winery for immediate pressing. Port grapes are not dried in the sun prior to crushing, as this practice is considered to have a negative impact upon wine quality.


Port and Port Style wines

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Definition and Background

corksThe term port is a strictly controlled title (similar to that of Sherry) applied to fortified wines that have been produced in the Douro valley (which encompasses the town of Oporto) in northern Portugal, and matured in this region or in the city of Vila Nova De Gaia. Vineyards in this region are categorized by the local controlling authority, the Casa do Douro, from A to F, with higher grading corresponding to higher proportions of grapes permitted for use in port production.

Unlike Sherry, Port owes much of its flavor to the procedure of fortification in mid fermentation, which serves to retain the varietal characteristics of the producing grape. There are two general styles of Red Port: the soft and sweet Portuguese styles and the tannic, dryer English styles. Alcohol by volume varies from 19 – 22% for these types. White ports are also produced, which may have alcohol volumes as low as 16.5%.

History and Importance

The origins of Port are similar to the origin of Sherry and seem to stretch back to the 17th century, when increasing demand for Portuguese wine in England lead to the export of Douro Valley wine. This style of wine was thin, dry, acidic, with a coarse flavor (due high tannin content) and traveled poorly, thus brandy was added to fortify the wine, preserving it over often length sea voyages around Europe, thus producing the port wines of today, although production practices have changed slightly.

Although demand for Port is declining, the production of this wine is extremely significant to the Portuguese national economy.


Sherry Style Wines produced outside Spain

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Sherry type wines produced outside Spain often utilize different production techniques than those described in previous sections.

A baking process is employed in to produce Sherry wines in California and Australia. Base wine is produced from red or white varieties with a pH of 3.6 and fermented to dryness. wineFortification of the wine occurs (with neutral spirit), to a level dependant upon style, before being filled into tanks and exposed to a heat source (49°C) for a month, which may be a heated room or steam filled coil inserted within the barrel. Oxidation of the wine rapidly occurs, (particularly if oxygen is introduced in the system) which lead caramelisation of the wine and the production of Maillard type compounds that color the wine. Similarly oxidation of ethanol occurs, leading to the formation of required acetaldehyde. There is little or no loss of volatile and total acids during this process. The coarse/strong flavors produced by baking require maturation of the wine, often in oak barrels, for a period of six months. Quality Sherry styles may receive up to three years maturation. Blending and sweetening with fortified grape juice occurs prior to bottling.

Submerged culture type processes are used to produce Sherry style wine in Australia, although some non blended solera type wine is produced. Base wine of pH 3.2 is fortified to 15% alcohol, inoculated with flor yeast and added to a vessel equipped with aeration and agitation devices, to continually disperse the suspended yeast throughout the whole volume of wine rather than allowing a film to form. Temperature is maintained around 15°C. This system rapidly creates high acetaldehyde levels.

Fortification again occurs, post flor treatment, raising alcohol to 17 – 19%, before the wine is blended with baked sherry types, on account of its lack of complexity.

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Spoilage, Stabilisation and Bottling of Sherry Wines

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Other Commercial Styles
Cream and pale cream (11.5 – 14% reducing sugars), dry (< 4.5% reducing sugars)and medium type sherries (4.5 – 11.5%) are primarily sweetened oloroso wines containing small percentages of amontillado, with fino added to lighten the style. Sweetness is achieved in these oloroso wines via the addition of specific sweetening wines, which are fortified to 17 – 18% alcohol by volume at the beginning of fermentation, thus preserving the majority of the must sugars.

Spoilage is primarily via the action of heterofermentative lactic acid bacteria, particularly during flor maturation, although maintenance of hygienic practices minimizes this risk.

Stabilization and Bottling
Sherry wines are fined and cold stabilized for a couple of weeks at temperatures of – 9°C, to remove any precipitate and are filtered through a 1.2µm membrane prior to bottling, thus ensuring microbial stability.

Fractional Blending of Sherry Wines

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Maturation and Individual Wine Characteristics – Part 3

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This is the concluding part of the Maturation and Wine Characteristics. The work continues though!

bar drinksA loss of the flor may occur in fino types not regularly replenished or of considerable age, which results in the production of richer amontillado type wines. Wines designated for this style are re-fortified to 17.5% alcohol by volume and aged in subsequent solera systems in the bodega for at least eight years, in butts filed to 95% capacity . Oxidation of the wine in the soleras occurs, transforming the pale wine into a dark gold color. Characteristic nutty flavors are also evident in the product, which are created by a combination of compound oxidation, esterification and concentration of fusel oils and other non volatile compounds due to the process of evaporation in the wooden butts. This wine displays a fino aroma, but a fuller body.

As previously mentioned, oloroso wines do not develop flor yeast, thus such types undergo a process of aging similar to amontillado types. Butts are filled to 95% of capacity and stored in warmer parts of the bodega, as temperature control is not needed to ensure flor formation. This warmth may aid extraction of phenolic compounds from the oak, which contribute to the oxidation of the wine. Oloroso solera systems contain less ciradera stages and blending is more limited, thus slightly more barrel to barrel variation may occur in these wines. Maturation is similar to the oxidative process described for the amontillado types above, with color and flavor forming via the oxidation of phenolic compounds in the wine and a concentration effect. Esters and volatile acid levels in the wine increase, due to the conversion of acetaldehyde to acetic acid, which may combine with ethanol to produce ethyl acetate. Wines emerge fairly dry, although sweetness and body is more evident in this style than in fino Sherry, as glycerol formed in initial fermentation is not utilized by the flor yeasts and is therefore present in concentrations between 7 – 9 g l. Oloroso wines contain 17- 18% alcohol by volume.

Raya style Sherry is a form of oloroso that is matured in direct sunlight, due to high phenol content of the wine. A very dark wine is formed from the oxidative reactions that subsequently occur. Raya are typically blended with oloroso wines before sale.

We’ll be moving on now ..

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Maturation and Individual Wine Characteristics – Part 2

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This continues the previous articcle on “Maturation and Individual Wine Characteristics”

Other products, such as terpenes and lactones are also formed at this stage by the yeast, which also contribute to the fino character. Terpenes are synthesized by the flor yeasts, and produce rose like, or floral aromas in the wine. Lactones are esters synthesized by yeast and appear to originate from an esterification reaction between α –ketobutyric acid and acetaldehyde. They are responsible for strong nutty aromas. Some of the lactone precursors may be extracted from the wooden cask material by the ethanol within the wine.
Wine GlassAlthough great care is taken not to disturb flor films, regular removal every three months and replenishment of wine (from the same anada or vintage) is required to replenish diminishing oxygen levels and nutrients, which are crucial to maintaining a flor coverage.

Wines with flor remain unblended for a year, after which time they become part of the unique solera system (Figure 3) common to all Sherries. This system is a form of blending, facilitated by topping up of older butts with young wine from more recent vintages, to achieve age and consistency in the final product. This system is composed of a number of stages or criadera, (which vary from producer to producer), each containing wine at a particular age, with the oldest stage being that of the solera stage or solera. As wine is removed from the solera for bottling, the partially empty butts are refilled with wine from the first (or next oldest) criadera or stage. The first criadera is thus replenished from the second (or next oldest) criadera and so on throughout the numerous criaderas, with the final, youngest criadera refilled with a suitable wine from the same vintage (anada). Wines drawn from individual butts in a criadera are blended together before being added to the next criadera, thus ensuring product consistency during production. This indicates solera systems for fino wines may involve up to 600 butts, arranged in one solera and five criaderas. Aging of fino types takes at least three years and may extend to eight.

Finos emerge with 15.5 – 17% alcohol by volume, a distinct pungent (green) aroma and a dryness that lacks acidity.

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Maturation and Individual Wine Characteristics

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Wine BarrelsWine maturation occurs in American oak butts of 500 – 600 l capacity, which are stacked in tall, well ventilated buildings (Bodegas) which maintain a cool environment. Internal humidity is maintained above 60% by frequent watering, preventing excessive evaporation of water (through the wooden maturation vessels) from the wine.
Butts containing fino type wines are filled to 80% capacity, to maintain sufficient air/liquid interface to allow the spontaneous formation of the flor yeasts, so crucial in producing quality fino Sherry with the required characteristics. Temperatures must be maintained between 15 – 20°C to ensure flor initiation will occur. The flor is a film of yeast, created by the activity of S. cerevisiae type yeasts (S. beticus, S. cheresiensis), that float on the surface of the wine, preventing the exposure of wine to oxygen, (which may cause browning due to the oxidation of phenols) and film forming, acetic acid producing spoilage organisms. Flor yeasts possess an aerobic metabolism which leads to the metabolism of compounds within the wine: ethanol is consumed as a carbon source (1 – 1.5% v/v) and is replenished accordingly (via refortification), acetic and lactic acids are reduced (to acetaldehyde and esters), from 0.4 g l-1 to 0.04 g l-1, and glycerol is reduced from 8g l-1 to 0.5 g l-1. The large amounts of acetaldehyde (responsible for the pungent “green” aroma of the wine) that are common in such wines, 260 – 360 mg l-1, are the result of oxidative alcohol dehydrogenation by the flor yeasts. Acetaldehyde derivatives (which contribute to fino character), such as 1,1 diethoxyethane and acetoin also increase during flor maturation, to 40 – 75mg and 8 – 19 mg l-1 respectively. 1,1 diethoxyethane is an acetal compound formed via a chemical pathway from acetaldehyde and is partly responsible for the fruity aroma of the wine. A proposed pathway for the formation of acetoin by yeast involves a reaction between active acetaldehyde (acetaldehyde-TPP complex, formed from the decarboxylation of pyruvate) and acetyl coA, via the action of diacetyl synthetase enzyme, to produce diacetyl. The enzyme diacetyl reductase then reduces diacetyl to acetoin.

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Sherry – Post Fermentation

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Upon completion of fermentation, the wines are racked and fortified. Clarification upon racking is not required, as flocculation of the yeast leaves a bright product. Wine destined for fino types are a pale yellow, dry, with a volatile acidity (as acetic acid) of 0.2 – 0.5 g l-1 a pungent aroma, and low phenolics. Wines marked as oloroso and associated types are darker in colour (higher phenolics), fuller bodied, with higher volatile acidity and a more vinous aroma. The fortifying spirit is a neutral type, (and thus has little impact upon the flavour of the product), of 96% alcohol by volume, which is distilled from wine or associated pomace. It is sourced from outside the Jerez region. The spirit is blended with a quantity of wine three days prior to fortification, to prevent clouding (Bakker, 2003). Fino types are fortified to 15.5% alcohol by volume and oloroso types to 18.5%, with the latter higher alcohol content required to prevent the formation of flor yeasts, which will develop upon the fino types during maturation.


Sherry Fermentation – part 2

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Figure 2Acetaldehyde (a major flavor compound in Sherry) diffuses from the yeast during this primary fermentation, usually as an intermediate product during the first 48 hours of fermentation. Levels are reduced (via conversion into ethanol and acetic acid) as fermentation and maturation proceeds beyond this point. High levels of acetaldehyde may be formed by the intentional incorporation of large volumes of air during fermentation, to ensure adequate yeast growth. Other significant components formed during fermentation are; esters (fatty acids esterified by ethanol); organic acids, produced by yeast upon deamination of amino acids ; and higher alcohols, formed by yeast deamination, decarboxylation and reduction of amino acids . Glycerol is also one of the more abundant alcohols at this point, at ~ 8g l-1.

Figure 3Fermentation goes to completion over several weeks, leaving a dry wine with less than 2g/l of fermentable sugars and 11 – 12% alcohol by volume. Higher alcohol concentrations range from 207 – 405 mg l-1. Some strains of S. cerevisiae may produce large amounts of malic acid during fermentation (Figure 2); however significant concentrations of malate, between 1 – 8g/L are common in grape juice . The malic acid is converted by lactic acid bacteria found in the must, primarily altering the taste of the wine. Leuconostoc oenos is the only species capable this reaction in the Sherry base wine, as Henick-Kling (1993) and Jackson (1994b) both state it is the only species performing this malolactic conversion in wines with a pH of 3.5 or less. The sharp tasting L-malic acid is decarboxylated by a malolactic enzyme (malate carboxylase) possessed by the bacteria, to produce L-lactic acid, which has a softer taste. Malolactic fermentation also raises the pH of the wine by reducing the total acidity (removing one of the carboxylic acid groups in malic acid; Figure 3), which is also a characteristic of Sherry.


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