Porto Wines

For thousands of years, foreign aficionados have cherished the wine that is grown in northeast Portugal on the mountainsides along the Douro River. As far back as the first Century B.C., the Greek historian, Polybius, in his Land of Wine, noted that this wine sold at one drachma for a matreta (27 liters). At the time of the caesars, the Romans, who occupied the region, introduced treading troughs and clay amphoras for making and aging the wine.

Viticulture became so popular that the Emporer Domitian had to order the number of vineyards reduced by half to keep a balance with the other agricultural products. Wine cultivation thrived during the Visagoth domination and survived the Moorish occupation of the 8th to 12th centuries. From 1143, when Portugal became an independent kingdom, Douro wine was often mentioned in royal decrees, and by the 13th century it was shipped down the Douro River to the coastal town of Porto, and exported as far as afield as Holland. Rui Fernandes, a courtier of King John III, tells us that in 1532 the Douro was producing the equivalent of 600,000 cases of wine.

Noted for becoming more perfumed with age, it was the best, logest-lived wine in the kingdom. He said that the Spanish court in Castile, the royal court of Portugal, and the local nobility and clergy treasured these fragrant wines. He also gave a detailed description of the grapes used _ some of the same varieties used today. The Portuguese historian, João de Barros, in his Geografía of 1548, cites the quality of various wine locations from one end of the Douro to the other, enthusing that ” wonderful wines are harvested in the Douro, whence they are shipped to the city of Porto”. By the beginning of the 17th century as many as 1,200,000 cases reached Porto each year, and in 1638 a German diplomat named Cristiano Kopke founded a Douro wine shipping company that is still in existence today. In 1675 wine destined for Holland was called for the first time by its modern name: Porto. Although, by law, only wine produced in Portugal may be called Porto, other countries accept and respect its translation (Port or Port Wine). As the 17th century drew to a close, an event took place that would give Porto universal fame and prestige: it was discovered by the British, who spread its fame all over the world.

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