History - Retrospective - Porto 1998

Pavilhão Rosa Mota

Porto possesses the unspeakable richness and glory of an old, and it has deservedly obtained the World Heritage Site status for its breathtaking Historic Centre. Five centuries after Vasco da Gama and his pioneer voyage round the Cape of Good Hope to India, the EU Contest for Young Scientists gathered together more than 80 potential discoverers for the New Millenium.
Porto immediately reminds us of a very particular flavour, a most renowned wine that is the outcome of a quite complex brewing process that somewhat becomes the meeting point of Chemistry and Gastronomy. The finest Port wine is produced from grapes grown on the steep and rocky slopes of the Upper Dour and its tributaries. Vines have been grown on these remote hillsides since pre-Roman times.
In the 17th Century British traders were suddenly cut off from their supplies of Bordeaux because of the frequent wars in France. They then started to appreciate better the full flavoured and robust wines from Portugal. Under the Methuen Treaty of 1703, England granted lower duties to Portuguese wines and therefore it became the principal exPort destination of the wines from the Douro Valley for over a century.
Nevertheless, these wines did not reach England in good conditions, due to the rigours of the Atlantic Ocean. Some traders came up with the idea of adding pure grape spirit during fermentation and Port, as we drink it today, was therefore elaborated for the first time. Traders soon became aware of the fact that the fortifying process did far more than just protecting the wine; it actually improved its qualities by making it mature into a unique blend.
Traditional methods of treading took place in a large tank called a lagar. This is still used today, but has now been mainly replaced by fermentation in closed tanks, which gives better quality control and extracts the colour from the skins equally well. The process of fermentation is arrested, as mentioned above, by the addition of brandy: 10 litres for every 45 litres of wine.
The young Port is the stored in vats or casks made of oak or mahogany and allowed to settle for a few months before beginning its journey to the maturing lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia near Porto. The maturation of Port wine continues for at least two years in 550 litres oak casks called pipes or pipas and this maturation accounts for the excellence of superior Port. Blue purple in colour, the young Port gradually turns red, then tawny, and it finally becomes progressively pale with age. The ageing Port in its wooden casks is racked annually to remove the sediment that commonly occurs in maturing wine.
No wine has been more subject to imitation, but no wine is more resistant to the creation of a convincing surrogate than Port. The "real thing" can only be made one place in the world because of a unique conjunction of soil, climate and grapes: Porto's Douro River Valley. And this is due to pure scientific and chemical reasons: particularly the soil, which is very acid due to high potassium, low calcium and magnesium, and an excess of aluminium, which is toxic to the roots. Furthermore, the mountainsides can only be prepared for planting by levelling patches of it with pointed iron tools and dynamite or more recently, with bulldozers and tractors. No one ever said it would be easy: this great wine is truly born of exceptional adversity.



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  • Karsten Weiss : "Digi Cow - A completely new type of milking machine" D
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  • Paul Pak - Peter Weilenmann: "The virtual blindmanscane" A
  • Robert Carney - Matthew Thomas: "Yellowing of alkyd: based paints in the dark" UK

  • Magnus Ari Jonsson: "The effect of salt on streaming potential in water flow pipes" NL

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    Pedro Guerreiro
    Vera Adam-Vizi
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    Kristinn Andersen
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