Oporto (Porto), Portugal’s second-largest city, is the spiritual home of Port wine. Located in northern Portugal, Oporto marks the point at which the Duoro river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Oporto has been of great historical importance to the European wine trade since the Anglo-Franco trade wars of the 17th century. During that time the London market developed a taste for the dark, 'blackstrap' wines that were shipped out of the city. The old Oporto city center is a classified UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Greater Oporto includes the historic city of Vila Nova de Gaia, on the southern banks of the Duoro. Here, Port was traditionally shipped in casks down the Duoro to be stored in ‘lodges’ for ageing until ready to export. Since the construction of hydroelectric dams further up the river, it is not possible for flat-bottomed barco rabelo boats to travel to and from the Port estates. Consequently, Port casks are now transported by truck, though the ageing process remains unchanged.
In the early days, Port wines were dry and astringent, having had brandy added to the finished wine to stabilize it before it was shipped to London. The modern style of Port can be traced back to 1678, when the Abbot of Lamego was adding brandy to the wine before it had finished fermenting. By arresting fermentation, he could retain the natural sweetness of the ultra-ripe Port-grape varieties and create a fortified wine capable of improving with age.
Over the next 50 years, the style became so popular that demand for Port spawned various imitations and shortcuts. One of the most famously documented liberties taken with Port production during that time was using elderberry juice to add depth of color and flavor to otherwise vapid wines. The practice was eventually outlawed and by 1756 regional boundaries and rules had been established to govern port production.
The year of 1933 was important for the port trade: the Port Wine Shippers’ Guild and the Port Wine Institute were established to promote and control the quality of exported wines. The Port Wine Institute started grading port estates based on their location, soil type, age of vines and grape varieties grown. Classifications ranging from A to F were awarded to each estate based on the final score. This system is still in place today, though now administered by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), established in 2003.