Great Port vintage to wash down Portugal's 2011 woes

Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:31am EDT
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By Andrei Khalip

LISBON (Reuters) - It was a horrible year of debt crisis and an international bailout for Portugal, but 2011 turned out to be nothing short of a miracle year for the country's best known product: port wine.

After a tasting session on Friday attended by dozens of international experts, the crimson-robed Port Wine Brotherhood that counts among its members all major port producers and merchants as well as kings and heads of state, proclaimed 2011 a Vintage Year, the first since 2007.

"It is one of the largest Port vintage declarations ever, but more importantly it is one of the best years in terms of quality that has the critics exalting the wines, a lot more than in 2007," said Manuel Cabral, president of the Institute of the Douro and Port Wines.

Port wine developed initially as a fortified wine after merchants found that adding alcohol to it made it easier to ship to England, where it first became popular.

The Douro region is the world's third-oldest protected wine region after Chianti in Italy and Hungary's Tokaj.

"This vintage should add strength to the whole Port sector, allowing us to increase the value of exports ... 2011 made things tough for Portugal, but good things happened too. Our vintage was one such great thing," Cabral said.

Debt-ridden, cash-strapped Lisbon resorted to an EU/IMF rescue package in 2011 that enforced painful tax hikes and spending cuts and triggered a deep recession.

Vintage port, made only from the grapes of the declared vintage year, is usually left to mature in the bottle for years or decades. This signature type of wine accounts for only about two percent of total port output, but is capable of driving overall sales up by drawing critics' attention to the wine.   Continued...

Port Wine Brotherhood members attend the swearing in ceremony of new comrades in Porto June 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro