Before its reputation as a wine-producing country was recognised, Portugal used to be first and foremost a Port-producing country. Port was the first Portuguese wine to achieve international popularity, and still is the single most international item in Portugal’s vinous portfolio. The internationalisation of Port began in the 17th century, reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries, and did not recede until the 20th century.
In the course of several centuries, numerous foreign merchants settled down and took root in the Douro region, produced wine from its dangerously steep hillside terraced vineyards, and shipped their products along the Douro to Porto, then onto the world. The international nature of Port is reflected in numerous ways, the most obvious of which is language. In English-speaking countries at least, Port houses are often referred to as shippers. Designations such as ruby, tawny, crusted and late bottled vintage etc. are unmistakably English. If it takes Italian to appreciate opera and Spanish to approach cigar and coffee, English is very much the language for Port.
Foreign influence and ownership in the Port sector is all too apparent. Indeed, it would appear that the majority of Port shippers have English names, followed by Dutch and German, making Port houses with Portuguese names a precious minority. Replicate this in any other sector in other countries, xenophobia would be almost guaranteed, but there are paltry few such incidences in the Port sector. Port not only took on British names, but also British traditions, e.g. the de rigueur custom of “passing the Port to port”. Here, “Port” refers to the wine, and “port” is the nautical term for left, as opposed to starboard (right). Blue Stilton, meanwhile, remains the perfect cheese to pair with Port.
Established in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1750, Burmester is a British Port shipper whose founders originated from Mölln, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is now part of Sogevinus Fine Wines Group, which also owns Kopke (est. 1638), Cálem (1859) and Barros (1913). Along with Symington Family Estates, Fladgate Partnership, Sogrape Vinhos and Real Companhia Velha of Oporto and the Douro Valley, Sogevinus Fine Wines Group is one of the largest players in the Port sector. Its four stylistically different Port houses covering four centuries are worth discovering, and Burmester comes highly recommended.
For large parts of history, sweet wines have been the most revered and expensive wines. Due to social changes post-WWII, Port prices have been kept at a low level. Years from now, one may look back at the early 21st century as the bubble of big, dry reds, lamenting the missed opportunity to enjoy fine sweet wines without breaking the bank.
Available at Palatium Fine Wines; Contact: Mr Pedro Lobo; W: www.palatiumwines.com; E: firstname.lastname@example.org; T: +852 2875 0782
A cuvée of several vintages with at least three years of maturation in barrels and steel tanks. Translucent citrine with pastel golden reflex, the pristine nose offers grapefruit peel, custard apple, passion fruit, crushed rock and jasmine. Anchored by bright acidity and pronounced minerality, the vigorous palate delivers yuzu peel, green mango, jackfruit, sweet ginger and white pepper. Off-sweet (43g/l residual sugar and 3.3g/l acidity) and medium-full bodied at 19.5 percent, the irrepressibly fruity entry carries onto a thoroughly exotic mid-palate, leading to a markedly piquant finish.
A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Sousão from a single vintage, bottled between the fourth and sixth years after harvest. Reddish black with carmine-rosewood rim, the aromatic yet measured nose reveals dried fig, crème de cassis, dark chocolate, liquorice and incense. Braced by generous acidity and succulent tannins, the fleshy and harmonious palate furnishes prune, brandied cherry, coffea arabica, nutmeg and balsam. Fully sweet (95g/l residual sugar and 4.8g/l acidity) and medium-full bodied at 20 percent, the precise entry evolves into an exuberant mid-palate, leading to a focused finish.
A blend of old vines (average 50 years old) dominated by Touriga Nacional from a single vintage, bottled between the second and third years after harvest. Reddish black with auburn-maroon rim, the resplendent nose radiates dried mulberry, essence de violette, start anise, cocoa and cedar. Buttressed by abundant acidity and tasty tannins, the gorgeous palate oozes dried damson, liqueur de Chambord, clove, caffè macchiato and geranium Fully sweet (84.6g/l residual sugar and 6.52g/l acidity) and full-bodied at 20 percent, the Baroque entry continues through a Manueline mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages