Port has a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. Made for centuries in the rugged region of northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley, Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum. Fortification means it is a wine with the addition of a stronger, higher-in-alcohol neutral spirit, generally aged, and because it is rich and sweet, is often sipped out of special little dessert glasses.
Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate Ports pairing versatility as it is a popular addition to chocolate cakes, sweet gooey chocolate sauces and even used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak (especially a blue cheese topped steak). Often Port is simmered until it becomes a thich syrupy sauce which is added to recipes or just drizzled it over a dish, much like a balsamic glaze. Port is a great flavorful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.
Today, various renditions of Port are made outside of Portugal in places like California and Australia to name two. However, real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal. Non-Portuguese Ports are typically made from raisined grapes and often lack the depth and remarkable acidity that comes with the original.
True Port is the unique blend of the Portuguese indigenous grapes like Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties! Each grape adds a unique flavor to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes. Additionally, when picking up a bottle, authentic Portuguese Port has the designation of “Porto” on the bottle’s label.
While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are fine Ports that are highly treasured for sipping and can cost several hundred dollars.
In broad terms, Port can be split into two distinct categories: Wood Aged or Bottle Aged. Wood-aged Ports are typically ready for early enjoyment, designed to be consumed while still relatively young. The bottle-aged beauties, like Vintage Port, are built to go the distance, often requiring another decade or two to reach full maturity.
As it’s already been mentioned, Port is a sweet wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate sauce. There are several different kinds of port, but the primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness). Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.
When serving Port, try to keep the serving temperature just below room temperature, right around 60°F degrees (16 °C). Serving Port wine with a slight chill will lift the aromatics and focus the innate fruit and flavor components. Use a Port wine glass which smaller than a regular wine glass or brandy snifter and it is designed to hold the standard serving size of approximately 3 ounces. Once opened Ports can last from a day (Vintage Port) to several weeks for Ruby Ports and several months for Tawny Ports.
Port wine pairs wonderfully with richly flavored cheeses (including blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses), chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and even sweet-smoky meats (barbecue anyone?) A popular way to serve Ruby Port in the summer (with a meal) is on the rocks with a peel of lime!
Port also makes a fine holiday gift for a wine or liqueur dirnker it’s richer texture and flavor profile makes it a special gift, not to mention it curls up niely with you in front of a roaring fire!
What is Ruby Port?
When someone says any Port in a storm, thoughts immediately turn to a Ruby Port and a cozy fire. There are many different official categories of Port with Ruby being the most common.
Ruby Port gets its name for its distinct ruby color. These Ports are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas and an equally nimble palate presence. These wines are wallet-friendly, entry-level Ports, made from a mix of both grapes and vintages, aged for a total of three years and are quite popular.
They are intended to be consumed young and enjoy a remarkable food-pairing versatility, especially with bleu cheese, milk chocolate, and berry-based desserts. Non-vintage Ruby Ports are actually sent to age for a few years in a wood vessel, then bottled for immediate drinking, resulting in juicy, fruity ports that are also great as aperitifs. Some good Ruby Port producers include: Cockburn, Croft, Graham’s Six Grapes, Nieport, Taylor Fladgate, and Warre’s.
Deeply-colored Ruby Port includes four main categories: Ruby, Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), and Crusted, along with many price tags. And do make great holiday gift ideas.
Vintage Port is at the top of the range where price, aging potential and prestige are concerned. It’s made only from the best grapes of a single vintage, and only in years that have been “declared” vintage-worthy, which usually happens just a few times a decade. Beyond that, the wines are made similarly to other Ports, fortified with spirits to arrest fermentation and preserve residual sugar. Vintage Port sees only two years of aging at the winery before each producer decides on its own whether to declare a vintage. Because the wines are so young upon release, they are usually tucked away in cellars for many years until they mellow and mature into their potential.
“Late-Bottled Vintage” or “LBV” Ports aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date. Late means that, unlike true vintage Port (aged two years before bottling and released to be aged much longer), producers release LBV four to six years after the vintage. This means they spend about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports, and so they’re usually more accessible at an early age. Some producers cold-stabilize and filter their LBVs, which is supposed to eliminate the need to decant the wine, but that can strip away the flavors. If you’re looking for LBVs made more like Vintage Ports, look for the word “Traditional” on the label. LBVs were originally intended to offer an experience comparable to Vintage Port but at a much lower cost. Many deliver the goods, but some of them can be just shadows of the real thing.
LBV Ports are also differentiated by style and each producer leans toward a particular style, so if you are looking for something young and fruity, ready to drink, select Cockburn’s, Càlem, Ramos Pinto or Sandeman. If you want something more mature, wood-aged, and ready to drink now, look for: Churchill Graham, Dow’s, W & J Graham and Taylor Fladgate. If you want to give a commemorative gift, one that’s truly worth aging, look for the following brands: Ferreira, Fonseca, Smith Woodhouse or Warre’s.
Crusted Ports are not made from wines of a single year but, like Vintage Ports, are capable of maturing in bottle. Also like Vintage Ports, they are not filtered before bottling and will form a ‘crust’ (natural sediment) in the bottle as they age.
When you are cooking and your recipe calls for Port, reemember most recipes call for the more affordable Ruby Port. This style is red and will impart red berry and cinnamon-like flavors into your sauce. You do not need a Vintage, LBV or Crusted Port when cooking. Remember, a true Portuguese Ruby Port may cost $6–10 a bottle, but will last a long time. If you don’t want to use your bottle for cooking (we understand that!) You can, in a pinch, use two parts dry bold red wine, one part alcohol (brandy or vodka) and about one-quarter part sugar. It won’t be ideal, but it is better than just using red wine!
Once opened, a Ruby-style Port will stay fresh for about 2 weeks (a month if preserved properly in your fridge)
What is a Tawny Port?
Tawny Ports are aged in casks rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. They are sweet wines with oxidative nut and caramel flavors, great acidity, easy to drink, silkier and lighter (in both body and color) than Vintage Ports. Tawnies can sometimes offer a broader, subtler array of flavors than their fruity and powerful Vintage Port relations, but both are connoisseurs’ wines.
Tawnies, like all Ports, are made primarily from Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes, grown on the dramatically vertical slopes of the Douro River. They are produced, as all Ports are, by stopping fermentation with the addition of brandy. The only difference between Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports is in the longer aging in barrel—a Tawny may age for decades. A Tawny that is aged in the hot, dry climate of the Douro Valley is more likely to have a burnt character, rather than the more fruit-driven style of the wines aged in the cooler, moist air of Oporto right by the ocean.
A Tawny Port is a blend of older vintage wines, displaying a rich amber color. Their distinguishing feature is oxidation. Tawnies are typically slightly sweeter, paler and browner than traditional Ports. They have a mellow, nutty, slightly woody, dried-fruit character, derived from contact with air during long maturation in porous wooden casks. As a Tawny Port spends more time in oak, its color starts to fade from ruby red to more orangey-brick, to a deep amber/mahogany color at maturity. As the aging process continues, a Tawny’s taste will become even more nuttier and it develops deliciously rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates and prunes. The older the Tawny Port, the more wood character you’ll get, which is why Tawny Port (as opposed to Vintage) is the more intense differentiation—woody, sweet, with notes of lighter dried fruit.
These wines pair beautifully with aged cheddar cheese, caramel apples or apple pie, dried fruit, milk or dark chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu, pumpkin or pecan pie.
There are two major types of Tawny: the first is a blend of several recent vintages with no specific statement of age – known as basic Tawny Port. The second consists of older-aged Tawnies, marked as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.
Tawny Ports come in three different styles: Colheita, Crusted or Indicated Age.
A Colheita Port is considered a Tawny Port that is made from grapes that all share the same single vintage year, and may have spent 20 years or more in barrel before it was released.
A Crusted Port is an unfiltered tawny that develops visible sediment, “crust,” and needs decanting before serving.
Tawny Ports that are made from grape blends that are older in average age are referred to as Indicated Age Tawny Port. Aged Tawny Ports are released in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old versions (the age refers to the time spent in wood). The tricky thing about Tawnies is that you never know how old they really are. When applied to Tawny Ports, the terms “10-year-old” and “20-year-old” are not intended to denote exact age. These year designations are the average compilation of various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend, not the exact years the wine has been aged as a whole. That’s not to say that you can’t tell the difference between Tawnies that are labeled 10-year-old and those that are 40-year-old. Tawnies of different ages do have distinct characteristics. Some people prefer the younger, more fruity style of 10-year-olds, while others want less fruit and more complexity. During aging, there is an evaporation of alcohol and water, so that the older the Tawny, the more concentrated it is, and the intensity of flavor becomes greater. Most Tawny lovers prefer the 20-year-old, believing it strikes the right balance between aged character and vitality.
The most drinkable of fortified wines, they’re packed with flavor, but are always soft, rich and seductive. For many Port lovers, the idea of drinking chilled, aged Tawny is good news, as chilling helps open the flavors. Try keeping it in the fridge door or put the bottle in an ice bucket for 20 minutes before pouring.
Another of the many pleasures associated with aged tawny is that the bottle, once open, doesn’t deteriorate for several weeks and can stay fresh for as many as three months. Keep wines longer by storing your wine in a cool dark place and using a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen.
When buying Tawny Port look for the following producers: Cockburn’s 20 Years, Dow’s 10 Year, Graham’s 20 Year, Taylor Fladgate’s 10 Year, Warre’s Otima 10 Year.
Historically, Vintage Ports are only declared every three out of ten years on average. A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of from a blend of grapes—mainly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barocca—grown in selected vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, usually which are all from the same vintage year. That means only the best grapes, from the best vineyards in the best years, come together to create a quality Vintage Port.
Vintage Port is designed to age a long, long time. A Vintage Ports typically spends about six months in oak and is then bottled, unfiltered, for further aging. This extended aging is typical and it can be for 20 years or more. There are some highly-prized Vintage Ports that are more than 100 years old! Of course, a direct result of long-term aging is that a layer of sediment forms in the bottle. This is why Vintage Ports require decanting and a bit of aeration prior to consumption.
Look at it this way, if Ruby Ports are the entry-level Port, then Vintage Ports represent the upper echelon both in style and cost. A classification that is common to mistake with the “Vintage Port” designation is the “Late Bottled Vintage” Port (LBV). Vintage port is easy to figure out—if a vintage was great, the port is bottled and sold, the idea being it should be aged in the bottle by the consumer (it isn’t wood-aging, but it theoretically allows the aromatic and flavorful complexity of the port to coalesce into a rich, sophisticated, delicious liquid).
In the past, young vintage Port was tough, tannic and not worth serving. It needed years —if not decades—to soften and mature. Today’s vintage Port is different. It’s rich and fruity, with tannins so finely married to the ripe texture that you can start drinking it after only about five years.
Since Vintage Port is a red wine, don’t be afraid to serve it in the same way as a California Zinfandel. Young, fruity Vintage Ports are delicious with a steak with pepper sauce, or with sausage, especially spicy sausage. For holiday celebrations, a simple platter of smoked meats paired with young Vintage Port is a perfect starter. A mature—20 years or older—Vintage Port is best with a blue cheese, like Stilton, and don’t forget to add the almonds, walnuts and chocolates! Very dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) and rich cheeses show all the richness, body and complexity and flavor that defines mature Vintage Port, but tropical fruits and blueberries are surprisingly successful pairings as well.
You can drink Vintage Port while dining on the patio in the summer, sitting around a log fire or at a restaurant. Because of its potency, Vintage Port is best served in small glasses that are large enough to swirl the typical three-ounce pour, because Vintage Port is fine wine it will give as much pleasure from its aromas as its taste.
Store Vintage Ports on their sides, in a dark, cool environment just like any fine wine. Once opened, Port can last two or three days, sometimes longer if it’s stored in a cool place. Treat vintage Port like a red wine, and you’ll be fine. Remember, there are only six to eight glasses of Vintage Port in a bottle, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish it.
If you plan on gifting a bottle of Vintage Port, look for the following Producers:Cockburn, Churchill, Dow, Fonseca, Graham, Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Warres.
A Christmas White Port:
While some people scratch their heads in complete bewilderment when wine talk turns to White Port, we can say white port is not only a real thing but has been around for a very long time. Port fans barely recognize it as a drink. But if you allow white Port to stand on its own as a simple, enjoyable summer apéritif instead of measuring it against its complex, nuanced red cousin, you might be pleasantly surprised. Made in Portugal from indigenous white grapes, white Port is a fortified wine around 18 to 20 percent alcohol.
In Europe, White Port is considered one of the great summer refreshers, served just as it is in Portugal’s Douro Valley: poured into an ice-filled tumbler, topped off with cold tonic, bruised mint sprigs and a lemon slice—the subtle flavors of creamy nuts, lemon and orange peel and white pepper are certainly different and a treat for your tastebuds.
In fact, as the name implies, the only major difference is that White Port is derived from indigenous white grape varietals —Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio (a.k.a. Verdelho), Malvasia and the prolific Codega (the most widely planted white grape in the Douro) to name a few—and can be made in both the very dry to semi- sweet styles. White Port is fortified like all other styles of Porto, but vinified like a Tawny and aged for a year in huge oak tanks before further aging in “Pipes” (550 liter oak casks) prior to bottling. The wines range in color from that of a pale straw gold to a beautiful salmon and those aged for extended periods in wood that resemble the amber tones of ancient Tawnies.
White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines, and their styles are segregated by sweetness level; they can be either sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Another point of differentiation is the length of aging time.
White Port or “Porto Branco” in Portuguese is an uncommon category of Port and is most often served as a chilled aperitif.
“Leve Seco”, a light dry White Porto, has a lower alcohol content of 16.5%. Dry white Ports are fermented longer in tanks and usually in oak between 5 – 10 years and gains complexity like a Sherry or Tawny Port while losing its residual sugar as it ages. This Port has a hint of sweetness and a nutty finish. Often served as an aperitif, this particular Port has found favor as a “gin” replacement when served as a “Port and Tonic” on the rocks. This version also pairs well with almonds, hard cheese, stone fruits, pâté or sushi.
Medium Sweet White Porto ages in wood for at least three years and shows more color definition and body than Leve Seco. Drink chilled, straight up in a white wine glass, or pour equal parts white Port and tonic or soda water in a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.
“Lágrima” is the sweetest White Porto. It is aged in oak for three to five years and the wine is produced utilizing free run juice from a variety of white grapes. This sweet style is very different and the flavors range from honey nectar to caramel and hazelnut. It can also double as a dessert wine as it pairs well with a variety of cheeses.
Medium Sweet and Lágrima Ports also pair incredibly well with a light dessert such as sponge cake or a meringue shell filled with fresh fruit. Both styles of White Port are also ideal for sangria—macerate the fruit in white Port before mixing with a bottle of white wine, or simply substitute White Port for the wine.
Ramos Pinto, Niepoort and Sandeman make good dry versions for drinking. When cooking, and the recipe calls for white wine, add Churchill’s Dry it’s aged longer and is darker, nuttier and a good addition to soup. You can add any dry White Port to potato or seafood chowder or in place of white wine in any recipe to add depth and a nutty flavor. Use sweet white Port for desserts and sauces the flavors they add are amazing.
Unopened white Port will keep a few years, or opened and refrigerated up to a month.
It’s all rosey: Rosé Port:
This style is one of the new wines from the demarcated region of the Douro, in northern Portugal—it was introduced by Croft in 2008. When it was first released the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) initially classed the style as “light ruby”. As the name suggests, this highly aromatic style of Port has a distinctive pink hue and typically displays notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, violets and caramel.
Like other Port wines, Rosé Port can be a blend of grape varieties. The most commonly used, however, are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. These are vinified with minimal skin contact, creating the rosé color, and reducing the amount of tannin in the wine.
Rosé Port’s distinctive freshness and soft, pleasant flavor is enhanced further with the application of cold settling prior to cool fermentation. As with other Ports, the fermentation process is halted with the addition of high-proof grape brandy that kills the yeast cells. This also has the added effect of raising the alcohol strength to approximately 19 percent ABV. In a departure from older, more traditional Port styles, Rosé Port is not aged.
Served cold or with ice, it goes well with dried fruits, something sweet or a red fruit tart. It is a great appetizer accompaniment and is nearly irresistable with light fish dishes or salads. It is also an ideal partner to savor in various cocktails on hot summer days or cozy winter evenings.
Rosé Port should be stored with the bottle in a vertical position, in cool and dry place (ideal temperature 59º F).
Rosé are wines that should be consumed within two to four months after opening the bottle,.These wines should, by their character, be served cold, at temperatures between 46° and 50° F, or with ice. Try this young and unique wine – a real temptation. It also makes a pretty gift!