The terroir of port wine: two hundred and sixty years of history (an article)

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We took part in writing a review article about port wine that was just accepted for publication in the Food Chemistry journal, and resulted from a collaboration between the Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar of the University of Porto and the Insituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto. And no, we weren’t guinea pigs in an experiment to assess the longevity benefits of port wine. For this co-authorship, we bottled up a great deal of history, geography, ampelography, chemistry and also Portuguese legislation. All this became quite a weapon to bother any friend or family with tiny details about this fortified wine.

Even though we nurture a deep appreciation towards port wine, it took more than just a couple of glasses to document the land, the wine, and the people. To better immerse ourselves in the theme, we had to flirt with it. Centuries-old books became our bibles, as we sank deeper into the wine’s history at the turn of every page.

The main focus of this work was to review the literature surrounding port wine’s terroir. Naturally, this implies a global assessment of the 260 (now 261) years of the demarcation of the Douro region. In 1756, the geographic limits for port wine production began being drawn. Moreover, the demarcation was the inception of a process of valorization and authentication of the Douro’s geoclimatic features, as well as the subjacent viticultural practices, the determination of the grape varieties that compose the wine, and later also its chemical and organoleptic composition. This process was long and hard, with the work of many minds and hands, and made port wine the international icon it is today: a product of excellence and a Portuguese flag.

We’ll leave you with a small curiosity: there was an old (bad) practice of adding elderberries to weak port wine, in order to deepen its color and sell it at a better price. This type of forgery was so widespread that Sebastião de José Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, decided to put an end to it by ordering all elders (Sambucus nigra) near the Douro river to be cut down.

As science is sometimes a little undemocratic, this scientific paper is only available for the scientific community, as credentials are required to access it. If you’re curious, just ask us. [NOTE: The article is available for reading until the 4th of May 2018]

Here is a list of some of the older books we read during our research (most are portuguese), if you’re interested in looking them up:


ALARTE, Vicêncio (1712) A Agricultura das Vinhas. Lisbon: Officina Real Deslandesiana. 

BRAVO, Pedro and OLVEIRA, Duarte (1925) Vinificação Moderna. Oficina de O Comércio do Porto.

COSTA, B C Cincinnato da (1900) O Portugal Vinícola, Estudos sobre amelographia e o valor oenologico das principais castas de videiras de Portugal. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional.

FERNANDES, Ruy (1824) Descrição do terreno em redor de Lamego duas léguas (1531-1532). Lisbon: Academia Real de Sciencias de Lisboa.

FONSECA,  Francisco Pereira Rebello da (1791) Descripção economica do territorio que vulgarmente se chama Alto-Douro. In: Memórias Económicas da Academia Real de Sciencias de Lisboa. Lisbon: Academia Real de Sciencias e Lisboa. p 399.

GIRÃO, António Lobo B F T (1822) Tratado theorico e pratico da agricultura das vinhas. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional.

LOBO, Constantino Lacerda (1790) Memória sobre a cultura das videiras em Portugal. In: Memórias Económicas da Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa. Lisboa: Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa.

VILLA MAIOR, Visconde (1876) O Douro Ilustrado: album do rio Douro e paiz vinhateiro. Livraria Universal de Magalhães & Moniz.

VIALA, Pierre e VERMOREL, Victor (1910) Ampélographie : traité général de viticulture. Paris: Masson et Cie. Éditeurs.

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