Port is not just for Christmas

Where does Port come from?Oldest Wine - London Wine Academy

Let’s head back in time to Portugal, where to develop their business in the wines of the Douro, the merchants of Viana do Castelo had to establish themselves in the town of Oporto from which ships would then carry the precious cargo to England. One of the early pioneers of the trade in Douro wine in the 18th century was Peter Bearsley (son of the founder of Taylor’s Port), who is said to be the first English wine merchant to make the hazardous journey into the upper reaches of the Douro Valley.

Although they originated from the mountainous Douro Valley some 80 km from the coast, the wines themselves took the name of the city from which they were shipped, becoming known in Portuguese as Vinho do Porto, meaning ‘Oporto wine’, and in English as ‘Port’. Interestingly, the wine is actually shipped (and often aged) from Villa Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the river, not from Oporto itself.

The second half of the eighteenth century was a significant period in the history of this amazing wine and saw the start of several developments, including fortification! In the early days, brandy was sometimes added to the wines at the time of shipment to fortify them against the rigours of the sea voyage. However, the practice of adding brandy to the wine before it had finished fermenting, now an inseparable part of the process of making Port, was seldom followed in the early part of the 18th century. As the century progressed, it became more common as it was found to result in wines that were sweeter, stronger, more aromatic and of greater appeal to the English consumer.

There are many styles of Port, but some of the most well known include;

  • White Port (made from grapes such as Malvasia Fina, Arinto, Boal (Semillon), Codega, Esgana Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato and aged briefly before bottling).
  • Ruby Port (the most widely produced style of port, aged in large barrels known as Tonel (if they are laid down) or Balseiro (if they are upright). These large barrels prevent the wine from becoming oxidised so they retain the rich, dark red colour which is so often associated with port).
  • Tawny Port (the style that the Portuguese most like to drink themselves and differ from ruby in that they are aged in smaller barrels. These allow the wine to oxidise over a slow, controlled process, giving it a “tawny” colour).

However, here are few more styles that you may not be as familiar with;

  • Crusted  (so-called because of the deposit that the wine throws in bottle, crusted Ports are a blend of wines from two or three harvests aged in large oak vats for up two years and bottled, like a vintage Port, without any fining or filtration)
  • Colheita (meaning ‘harvest’ in Portuguese, Colheita is a wine from a single year, aged in wood for a minimum of seven years before bottling, by which time the wine begins to take on the characteristics of a tawny. Most Colheitas are aged for much longer and, with careful management, may be bottled after 50 or 100 years!)
  • Vintage – You may have been fortunate enough to have tasted a ‘Vintage’ Port. These are the sought-after fine wines that will age for generations and are often gifted at christenings or special anniversaries.

The decision to declare a ‘Vintage’ or not lies with each House every year – if they feel the wines which were produced in a given harvest year possess the characteristics they look for in their Vintage Style. It also must be produced, aged and bottled according to the regulations that define Vintage Port, and the decision must finally be ratified by the IVDP (the regulating body for the Port trade).

All these styles are made from grapes such as Touriga Franca; Touriga Nacional; Tinta Barroca;Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão.

So back to 2019 – why Port for Christmas? Well, it’s just been one of those things that have evolved over time (much like Port itself!). It’s become a tradition, but there’s so much to love about this wine all year round that we’re passionate about educating our course attendees on the versatility of this wonderful wine! Oporto itself is now one of the most popular tourist stops in Europe (it is a UNESCO world heritage site), and the love for Port worldwide is clear across the generations – we welcome a surprising span of age ranges on our Port Masterclasses! Many people also like to visit the Port houses when visiting Oporto – there’s an excellent guide to them HERE.

After all, it was our own love and passion for all things Port that led us to set up our very popular Port Masterclass – so we could demonstrate Port is as valid today as it was all those years ago. We’re also one of the only wine schools to hold a regular Port Masterclass! You will learn how to taste and identify classic styles, assess quality and find out the best time to drink it. You’ll also be given Food and Port matching tips from cheeses, jamon, puddings and chocolate!

If you’d like more information about any of the wine courses or events, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have.

How to get the best value for money when ordering wine in restaurants. Money saving tips for eating out…

Did you know – most restaurants have around a 4 times mark up on every wine in their wine list, especially at the cheaper end of the scale? Sometimes the cost of a glass of wine or bubbly can even equate to half of the cost of a three course menu, so many people now simply choose not to order wine instead when eating out. We think change is required in the UK restaurant wine scene when it comes to wine by the glass and the price of wine – but we do also have some simple tips to help you learn your wines and get the most for your budget!

Some restaurants are smart – they realise that when ordering you don’t wish to order the least expensive wine to avoid looking ‘cheap’ and in doing so, will order the second least expensive bottle of wine on the menu. However, given they are aware of this psychological habit and are literally trading on it, it’s this bottle that often has the highest mark-up – and is often also the cheapest wine they buy!

Tech savvy? Check out an iPhone app called Wine Search, which enables you to pinpoint exactly how big a markup restaurant are putting on the bottles on their list!

When a sommelier is available at a restaurant, you should always take advantage of this! Their world revolves around producing the best possible wine experience for their customers  – just be up front and tell them what you’re looking to spend, explain what you want to eat and what you typically enjoy drinking, and then let them do their job.

If a sommelier isn’t available, knowing your wines is one of the greatest advantages you can have in making the best wine selection for the best price while eating out. Wine courses such as our Beginners One day Wine Course teach you to compare, contrast and discover wines from around the world; improve your tasting skills and take home practical tips for Wine and Food Matching! Education about wine puts the power back in your hands when ordering wine in a restaurant!

It was revealed last year that one in three of the top 100 UK restaurants is making a loss and many Michelin starred restaurants don’t make any money at all on their food. This has led to ‘bring your own booze’ (a once frowned upon alternative), being introduced by some to entice diners back through their doors (often with a corkage fee, of course). This allows you to select your own wine, giving you freedom from the set wine list and the opportunity to save some money by carefully sourcing your wine elsewhere such as the supermarket.

What do you feel about the cost of wine in restaurants? Has it put you off ordering? Or do you accept it as part of the price you pay for going out to eat? Would you bring your own wine? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you’d like more information about any of the wine courses or events The London Wine Academy offer, please do get in touch and we’ll answer any questions you may have.

Why learn about wine?

Many people enjoy the odd class of wine with dinner at home – or perhaps share a bottle of ‘house red’ over a pizza with friends or toast a success with a trusty prosecco. But have you ever had a secret longing to be, well, a little more knowledgable when the wine menu comes round? Would you like to broaden your wine horizons and try something new? To have that ability to order with confidence, and know the perfect pairing for your chosen meal?

It sounds like learning more about wine could be right up your street!

Firstly, of course, you can work out what wine you ‘like’ on your own – what suits your palette and whether you prefer red wine or a light rose. You can also visit the library or trawl the internet for wine advice, but this still doesn’t give you the on hand experience of an expert to provide answers to your questions. Attending a wine course gives you the opportunity to actually TASTE (rather crucial!) the wines you are learning about and learn about what exactly you should be looking for when selecting a wine.

Attending a wine course also gives you the opportunity to meet like minded people! You can bring a friend or family member along with you (and many do to our popular wine tasting courses) but it also gives you the chance to socialise and enjoy some great company with fellow likeminded people, as well as learning from the best.

Considering a wine course but conscious you’re a complete beginner? It doesn’t matter!! Most wine courses have an Introductory level where you can learn to compare and contrast new wines and improve your tasting skills, either simply in red wine, white wine or perhaps a wider overview including sparkling wines and champagne. Everyone will be in the same boat and starting from the same level – they’re all there to learn just like you.

If you’ve ever been floored when the wine menu comes round in a restaurant (often a daunting experience!), attending a wine course can also help you select the perfect wine for your meal with confidence. Naturally, a good sommelier may be on hand to help you choose and provide their recommendations, but even then it can help you pick the perfect wine from their recommendations.

Learning about wine also helps you BUY better wine with your buck! Gaining knowledge on particular regions and grapes  and their taste profiles, can also help if you’re purchasing wine for a special occasion such as a wedding or christening, or even if you’re just looking for a bottle for a romantic meal for two!

If you’d like more information on any of the wine courses or events London Wine Academy offer, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have.

To abstain or not, that is the question…

Life is too short to deprive yourself of a few innocent pleasures

Despite sadistic statisticians who are fond of gathering evidence that drink is bad for you and urging you to stay dry for at least two days a week, we were heartened to hear of the new diet fad to eat purple and de-tox on clean and natural food. Assuming that included is a glass or two of purplish Burgundy, we raised our glasses for a toast, only for it to be pointed out that it was more likely to mean beetroot, kale or a shrivelled radicchio.

Continue reading “To abstain or not, that is the question…”