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Not just any Port in this financial storm

DESPITE the troublesome times, local consumers are still accessing the finer things in life, and one of them, Port wine, is a predominantly European tradition producers hope will catch on here.

Port is a lusciously sweet fortified wine that displays a wide spectrum of complex, powerful flavors. Discovered by British merchants traveling through the Duoro, Portugal's northeast region, in the 1670s, the beverage soon found great favor. Back then, the wine was fortified with grape brandy, meaning the neutral spirit was added during fermentation which stops the process and leaves the Port wine on the sweeter side (about 9 percent to 11 percent) with residual sugar.

The amount of brandy added was initially only 3 percent, but after the great vintage of 1820 when the wines were richer, riper and naturally sweeter, shippers experimented with adding greater amounts of brandy earlier to produce the style familiar today.

The British love affair with Port (it is often described as the British version of central heating) has spanned the centuries, and it was custom among the upper classes to purchase a pipe (about 61 cases) of Port upon the birth of a child for storing till maturity at 21 years old. This is similar to the local custom of burying bottles of nu'erhong (yellow wine) following the birth of a daughter for her wedding day.

With such an overlap in tradition, Port shippers are eager to convince local bon vivants to enjoy their product as well. Two brands, Taylor's and Fonseca (distributed by ASC Fine Wines), both exceptional producers of the fortified wine, are convincing wine drinkers here that Port has its place in Chinese cellars too.

"One of the advantages Port has is it does function on different levels," said Nicolas Heath, marketing director for the two companies. "It is produced in an enormous variety of styles and price levels. I think the important thing is to communicate each style of Port to a particular group of people in a way that is meaningful for them.

"For example, vintage Port is one of the world's great iconic wines, but in a market where many collectors believe their cellars can be composed entirely of Bordeaux, there is clearly a job to be done that no cellar of great wine is really complete unless it contains some bottles of vintage Port."


Port is produced in 10 styles from 10 grapes - codega, gauveio, malvasia fina, rabigato and viosinho for white, and tinta barroca, tinta roriz, tinto cao, touriga francesa and touriga nacional for red. The most important styles of Port are red, which is an advantage in a market where color is still an important factor in purchasing wine.

The most accessible style and most emulated around the world (Port, like Champagne, is a legally-protected moniker and real Port is only from Portugal) is tawny Port, which can be both young and aged. Inexpensive and uncomplicated, these are drunk either as aperitifs or at the end of the meal.

Vintage Port, on the other hand, accounts for only about 3 percent of the total production of Port, and, like Champagne, is only made in very good years when shippers declare a vintage. Aged for two years in wood, it is then bottled where it matures slowly and is best enjoyed at least a decade later.

Besides its long association as a drink of tradition, Port was also previously considered a sexist drink. After meals, women cleared the room and the beverage was enjoyed exclusively in the company of other men, often with cigars. This was previously one of the barriers to growth in the market.

Today, such behavior is far less tolerated, and women have slowly come to enjoy the wine as much as men. The stigma of Port as an old man's drink, is also evaporating.

"When you look at the consumer of quality Port, it's a relatively young consumer," explained Heath. "I think there is now a clear understanding, especially in more mature markets, that Port is wine and part of wine culture.

"People do not stop drinking wine in times in crisis. Port has proved to be remarkably resilient, much more so than festive products like Champagne. People derive an element of comfort in Port ? Taylor's is 300 years old now and has gone through much more crisis than the one we're going through now."


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