Port wine basics for the neophyte
Traditionally served as a dessert wine, port wine has emerged as the sipping alternative to wine and cocktails at luncheons, after-work outings and at-home get-togethers.
What is porto?
You know that Europeans take their Porto seriously when the EU drafts legislation to define what it is. For the record, port is a fortified wine, produced in the Demarcated Region of the Douro, Portugal.
Officially, real port wine comes only from Portugal, very much the same way that true Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France. All other bubbly would be considered sparkling wine.
The alcohol in port wine is produced under very specific conditions that result from natural and human factors. While aging in wood, port wine's fruity aroma develops through oxidation to create a bouquet that is reminiscent of dried fruit, toasting, wood, and spices. The aging process also adds to its smoothness while making the bouquet more complex. Much older wines have a greenish tint.
Traditional production methods include stopping the fermentation process by adding grape brandy (beneficio) and other details relating to the aging of the wine. But since this article serves up the basics for the consumer and not the producer, I will focus on the info that you really need to know.
Can you handle it?
Port wine is different from other types of wine because it has an above average alcohol content; most range between 19% and 22% by volume. Another special characteristic is that its color and sweetness will vary according to the different types of port.
There are several styles of port, but there are essentially two aging styles: reductive aging and oxidative aging. Ports that are aged using the reductive process are sealed in their container and have no exposure to oxygen. They are smoother and less tannic. The ports that are aged using the oxidative process are matured in wooden barrels and are slightly exposed to oxygen. Oxidated ports are more viscous and intense. Following are several port styles that have been aged using one of these two methods.
Ruby is the label given to younger wines that display a deep color; they are fairly fruity and are usually aged for between three and five years. This port is aged using the reductive process and it is stored in concrete or stainless-steel containers. It is the cheapest and most readily available port in production and it is often blended to match the style of the distributor.
Generally speaking, blended tawny types vary considerably and they are aged using the oxidative process. Tawny Reserve port ages for a minimum of seven years in wooden barrels, where it takes on a nutty flavor. Other tawnies are a blend of several different vintages and the average age is printed on the label.
Port wine with an indication of age
Such wines are often tawny and are blended from wines of different years, expressing the nature of the wine as regards to characteristics that are given to it through oxidative aging in wood.
Connoisseurs understand, then, that a 20-year-old wine has the color, texture, aroma, and taste of a wine that has aged in wood for 20 years. Speaking of that legislation, the decreed age indicators are 10, 20, 30, and more than 40 years.
Don't call it a night just yet; which port wine is best for you?
Dated portWines from a single year can be sold after they have aged for at least seven years. These uniform types are labeled "dated port."
Late bottled vintage (LBV)LBV port is also from a single year, only it's borne from years of excellent quality and is aged longer in wood barrels than is the case with vintage port. Generally, it is bottled between the fourth and sixth year after it is made. It is red in color, full-bodied and smooth. Traditionally, it's gentler and more full-bodied than vintage port wine (of the same year).
Vintage portVintages, as the name suggests, are wines of superior quality, produced in exceptionally great years from distinct areas within the region. Vintage port is kept in wooden barrels for two to three years of oxidative aging before it is bottled.
Vintages are very full-bodied and deep-colored. Once they are in the 10- to 30-year aging process (in the bottle), they get a smoothness and elegance that gradually takes over from their initial bitterness. A powerful Vintage is 1983 Offley Porto Boa Vista Vintage, Portugal.
But with age, the bouquet becomes balanced. If you want to gauge whether you would like a vintage port, ask yourself how a bouquet of chocolate, cocoa, coffee, and cigars, combined with spices such as cinnamon and pepper sounds.
Sweet portPort wine range from very sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, and extra dry. The wine maker will determine its sweetness based on when and how he interrupts the fermentation process. And it's up to you to decide if you have a sweet tooth or not.
White portThe color of port wine ranges from deep red to light gold, but variations in between exist. White port (pale, straw and golden white) gets its shade through the methods by which it is made. White port that has been aged for many years in wood obtains the same golden color that very old tawnies have.
Find the port for you
Neophyte port drinkers should start off with a tawny that provides an excellent introduction to port drinking and are relatively inexpensive. Moreover, you can drink it at the time of purchase. Tawny ports of very good quality are often sold with an indication of the time they have spent in cask (upon receiving the special approval of the Port Wine Institute): ranging 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.
Now go out there and find the best port for you.
Port Wine Basics