The nineteenth century was an eventful one for the Port wine trade, periods of great prosperity and expansion alternating with episodes of catastrophe and disaster. The century saw Port wine become firmly established in the lifestyle and habits of the British. Shipments to the important market of Brazil continued to flourish and Port wine consumption extended to other places such as Russia, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia and the United States.
The first major challenge of the century came with the Peninsular War and the arrival in Lisbon of Napoleon’s army under the command of General Junot followed by the occupation of Oporto by Marshal Soult in 1809. During this period, and until the French Army retreated in 1811, the Port business virtually came to a halt. The British shippers and their families had fled the city, leaving their businesses in the hands of caretakers, and for most of the time the hostilities made it impossible to ship any wine.
A further period of political turmoil ensued in the 1820s culminating in the civil war, known as the Liberal Wars or the War of the Two Brothers, between rival factions supporting the absolutist King Miguel, who had usurped the throne in 1828, and his constitutionalist brother Pedro, former Emperor of Brazil. Although trade in Port wine continued during this period, it was severely disrupted, particularly during the siege of Oporto in 1832.
The end of the civil war saw the start of one of the greatest periods of expansion and prosperity in the history of the Port trade. By the 1840s the practice of fortification was almost universally established and Port had become the great fortified wine that we know today. This period also marked a strong growth of interest in Vintage Port
and the consolidation of its prestige. There was also growing taste for more mature Vintage Ports and a tendency to keep them for longer in the cellar. The mid-19th century was endowed with some legendary Vintage Ports such as 1863 and 1868. It was during this period that the custom of ‘declaring’ the finest vintages was adopted.