Vinho do Porto, more commonly known as Port wine, is a sweet, fortified red wine that comes from the northern part of Portugal. It has been produced there in the Douro Valley since the middle of the 15th Century. Now, however, it is widely available across the globe. Check your local grocery store and there will probably be several brands and styles to choose from. In fact, your next-door neighbor may even have some for sale. That’s right: people all over the world make Port wine from their own homes!
In simple terms, making Port wine involves nothing more than picking grapes, grinding them up, and then placing them into a tank where over time the grapes ferment, allowing the sugar that is naturally in them to transform into alcohol. Because Port is a sweet red wine, so sweet that it is commonly served as or with a desert, its high alcohol content is masked, making it popular among both wine connoisseurs and beginners.
There are many styles of Port wine, and most of the styles can be made in your home. Some of the more popular styles are Crusted Port, Vintage Port, Single Quinta, Vintage Character Port, Tawny Port, White Port, and Ruby Port. All Ports fit into two categories: Bottled aged and Cask aged. While Bottle aged Ports usually keep their color and flavor for year and years, Cask aged Ports lose flavor quickly but are also ready to drink sooner. Every wine maker should, therefore, choose a style and aging process that best suits their personal needs.
No matter what style of Port wine you choose to make, the equipment will be the same. For the beginner Port wine maker, figuring out in advance what equipment is needed can be the hardest part. To make things easier, here is a list of the equipment essential to the Port wine making process: small bucket; funnel; bottle filler; pressing bag; press; corker; thermometer; sulfite test kit; acid test kit; siphon hose and racking tube; and a hydrometer, or some other type of test jar.
Once you have the equipment necessary to make Port wine, the next step is securing the ingredients. No matter what style, aging process, or recipe you choose, most professional Port wine makers agree on these two points: one, yeast is essential when making Port wine, so don’t use substitutes!; and two, when a recipe or style requires brandy, then use regular brandy, not flavored brandy!
Now that those two points have been made clear, here is an easy recipe for the first time Port wine maker that makes six gallons of delicious wine: one gallon can California Red Grape Concentrate; twelve pounds of fine granulated sugar; five gallons of warm water; six ounces of dried elderberries; sixteen ounces of dried, non-glazed, banana chips; two teaspoons of yeast energizer; three ounces of acid blend; five crushed Campden tablets; and one package of Port wine yeast.
Once you have those ingredients on hand, follow through with the recipe by preparing the yeast several days in advance, separating the banana chips, adding elderberries, grape concentrate, water, half the sugar, then the yeast energizer, acid blend, and crushed Campden tablets. After you do that, stir everything up until the sugar dissolves. Then cover the container and wait twenty-four hours. When it’s time, add the yeast starter and stir gently once a day until the gravity reads at 1.040, then add the remaining sugar and stir. When the gravity reaches 1.030, strain out the elderberries and banana chips. Then siphon out the wine and attach an air lock. From there it’s only a matter of waiting for the wine to clear.
After a week the wine will be clear and stabilized. Sweeten it to taste, add sixty ounces of brandy and put it away and let it age for a year. Then, after a year, drink up homemade Port wine!