Coming into Port
December 27, 1703: The Methuen Treaty is signed by Portugal and England. The War of the Spanish Succession was fought 1701-1714. In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died leaving all his possessions to Philip, duc d’Anjou – a grandson of French King Louis XIV. Many interested parties in Europe and North America had issues with the Frenchman being seated as King of Spain. The Holy Roman Empire along with Great Britain, Portugal and others went to war against France, Spain, and Hungary.
Spain ruled over an empire and there was a fear the new Frenchman king would also rule in France and merge the two major powers into one. Portugal originally sided with France with the French Navy supposedly protecting Portugal’s coast. In 1702, with a British naval presence close to Lisbon, it became evident France was not up to the task. Portugal switched sides with the signing of the treaty. The treaty established war aims and listed commercial practices between the two signatories. One of the difficulties of being at war with France was wine shipments were highly taxed. This treaty gave preferential treatment to port, wine from Portugal, making it a popular replacement beverage in England.
Wine is fermented juice, usually from grapes but other fruits can be used. The fermentation process turns natural sugars into alcohol. Wine first appeared around the border regions of what is today Georgia and Iran ≈ 6000 BC. It spread through Europe and was popular there by 4500 BC. The word wine derives from the Latin word for grapevine. There are a variety of wines, sometimes classified by the grape used, but more frequently by the region where it is made.
Port, also called Vinho do Porto, Oporto, or Porto is a fortified wine from Portugal, coming from the Douro Valley in the northern part of the country. A fortified wine is one to which alcohol, usually in the form of brandy, has been added. In the US, ‘”fortified wine” is not permitted on the label so they are often called dessert wines instead. The Douro River Valley has three official zones with each producing a particular variety of the beverage. There are more than 100 types of grapes used to make port and the export process has been highly regulated. Storing port, like wine, means keeping the bottles in a cool, dark place.
“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
“Wine is a turncoat; first a friend and then an enemy.” – Henry Fielding
“The vine bears three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust.” – Diogenes
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Douro River is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. The origin is in Spain and the river runs for 557 miles before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it the third largest river on the peninsula. It flows from an elevation of 7,077 feet. The Douro vinhateiro is the wine growing portion of the valley located in Portugal. It has been classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the mid-twentieth century, the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats known as rabelos. The wine was then stored in barrels in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. However, in 1950 and 1960 dams were built along the river making this no longer possible. Today, wine is transported in tanker trucks.