What Port wine owes to England and the war against the French?

The different Port wines have many English names: Tawny, Vintage ...

The English have been and still are important players in the globalization of Port, to the point that this wine has a “British” connotation. In England, from the nobility to the common people, everyone appreciated it. The people were satisfied with the cheap port while the aristocracy cellars were filled with the best Vintage and Tawny that we tasted every day.Vintage was consumed at the end of the meal and Tawny as an aperitif at any time of the day. 

With time and production regulations, the categories of Port wines are now classified and well identified, but always in English. It was in the 19th century that designations like Tawny, Vintage, etc. appeared.

bottle of 10 year old tawny port wine from Mattos



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A solution not to buy wine from French people

England, an old maritime power, is not a wine producer and had a certain reluctance to buy its wine in France and Spain, often enemy countries. England quickly found the ideal partner in Portugal to stock up on wine and other food products. The British thereforebegan to explore the wines of the far north of Portugal, the Minho.At that time, were characterized by their low alcohol content, hence their inability to age, and by their acidity see our article: "the percentage of alcohol in port wines". These wines were necessary for England but little appreciated. The English reserved them for the crews of their ships and for taverns in the shallows of London. They baptized it Red Portugal. 

In 1689 the war between France and England broke out, which led the English to stop their purchases of French wines, to get even closer to Portugaland to seek all the Red Portugal they could find.

In 1703, the signing of the Treaty of Methuen established a privileged status for Portugal as a source of wine supply for the English and the Dutch, which in a way confirmed the factual situation that existed then and posed the bases of future exchanges.

city of Porto

Forced to descend slightly further south in the country, the English settled in Porto, where they discovered the red wines which came from the Douro (and which were not yet port wines). These Douro wines were better but far from perfect, with a variable alcohol content and, why not say it, the wines themselves often adulterated, in particular by the addition of elderberry juice. 

The British had to accept these conditions until, after extensive research and forays into the Upper Douro production region, they finally discovered port. Port wine, which is not only a stable wine but also has another characteristic that the British immediately liked: it is sweet.

At that time the city of Porto already hosted an important and influential English colony. There was her trading post, where English merchants met to discuss their interests and taste their port.

It is not difficult to imagine that at the beginning of history the majority of port wines were red and that they were consumed not only in Porto but also in English taverns, in abundance, served in mugs and known as the name of « red strap ». Because to guarantee the delivery of these wines to their destination in good conditions, it was often the case that English merchants added an additional dose of brandy.

Some authors attribute to the Dutch the start of the Port trade because the Dutch also started buying Douro wines when the Netherlands went to war against France in 1672. They would have bought a stock of wine at the Lamego monastery, convinced that the best wines were produced by the monks. These wines were thus baptized priestport.

Small additional clarification attesting to the importance of the role of the English in this region. In 1811 the king of Portugal wondered how to reward the services of Arthur Colley Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. He chose to grant him thetitle of Marquis and Baron of the Douro. This one, however holder of several titles of English nobility, was then called Lord Douro by his own.


The Windsor Treaty in force for over 600 years!

A major consumer of cod and a producer of wine for a long time, Portugal has found in England the ideal partner for its trade. Portugal bought from England the cod it caught in its waters in exchange for red wines that England so badly needed. This trading base - cod for wine - will later become « cod against port » to our delight.

Portugal and England, both turned towards the sea, were both ideal partners for developing profitable exchanges. England, still concerned about its power and independence, was looking for alternatives to France and Spain as a stable trading partner. Portugal, for its part, was trying to see beyond its only neighbor Spain and find reliable alliances for good and bad times...

Thus, on May 12, 1986, the 600th anniversary of the Treaty of Windsor was celebrated at Windsor Castle. This treaty is the oldest and most enduring alliance between two states in the world. En présence de Sa Majesté Elizabeth II d’Angleterre et du président de la République portugaise, Mário Soares, une messe a été célébrée dans la chapelle Saint-Georges, rappelant le jour où Richard II d’Angleterre et João Ier du Portugal ont célébré ce traité. Après la messe, tous les participants se sont retrouvés pour porter un toast, port wine in hand, to the health of the heads of state.


A unique ritual of English origin to serve the Vintage Port

There is a tradition of serving vintage red Ports : the host carefully opens the bottle, uses it, recaps the bottle and transmits it to the guest on his left, who repeats the operationuntil the bottle has passed in the hands of all the guests and returned to the master of the house. The most important guest, seated to the right of the master of the house, thus uses himself last, this quirk compared to usual customs being attributed to the English. It’s only then, after a toast or not, that everyone is happy to be able to enjoy this nectar of the gods. To our knowledge, the Vintage Port is the only wine in the world to be served in this way.