Your Complete Guide To Port

Your Complete Guide To Port
Your Complete Guide To Port

It's undervalued in North America, but if you ask a European, they might tell you that there's nothing better to finish off a good meal than a nice glass of port. A rich, full-bodied wine, port is considered by many to be one of the best and most complex wines on the market today. This complete guide to port includes a brief history of this unique fortified wine, its characteristics, traditions associated with the wine, and some suggestions for a nice bottle.

A wine born of conflict

The exact origins of port are uncertain, but the most commonly accepted story holds that, during a time of war with France in the 17th century, the English traveled to Portugal to find an alternative brew to the full-bodied French wines they valued so much. Such a product wasn't available in Portugal at the time, so the Brits took the young, heavy Portuguese wines and added brandy to halt the fermentation process. The result was port, which was not immediately popular in London, but came to be accepted by the early- to mid-18th century as one of the finest wines in the world.

Like Champagne, the term port refers specifically to the varieties produced in Portugal. In fact, most port is produced from grapes grown in the Douro Valley in northeastern Portugal; the grapes are then shipped about 600 miles down the Rio Douro (River of Gold) to the town of Oporto, where the major port manufacturers are located. Through a long and complex process, the grapes are turned into the signature fortified wine and shipped to the world.

Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Canada all produce excellent fortified wines in the style of port, but none can be called port, as the production of this wine is tightly regulated by the Portuguese wine institute, the Instituto do Vinho do Porto (IVP).

Port's popularity is unquestioned in Europe and the wine has seen its popularity developing in North America as well. But the rich, full-bodied nature and complexity of the wine isn't for everyone; it must be savored to be truly appreciated.

Types of port

Nine types of port are certified by the IVP for production. The quality and complexity of the wine vary according to the time it spends aging and the grapes used to make it. Many port manufacturers pride themselves on using wine-making processes that are the same today as they were nearly 400 years ago. Indeed, some vintage port is still made using grapes crushed by foot.

Ruby port

Ruby is considered the most basic and least expensive type of port. It's blended from the produce of several harvests and aged for two to three years in stainless steel or wood before being bottled. Ruby ports are meant to be drunk immediately, and their taste is considered a warming blend of sweet and spicy. Always choose a premium ruby, as lesser quality rubies can be quite harsh.

Suggested bottle:
Dow's Fine Ruby Port ($12 per bottle) is smooth with an agreeable level of richness.
Discover the rich complexities of tawny, Colheita, white, and crusted ports...

Tawny port

Tawny is aged in a wood cask for a longer period -- between three and 40 years. The best tawny ports take their pale amber or tawny color from longer aging in wood. Since some tawnies can be a mix of red and white port, look for the wine's age, which should be displayed on the bottle. True tawny, also called "aged tawny," comes in 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40-year-old versions, the best of which -- for the money -- is the 20-year version. Tawny is a good starter port for the novice. Its dry, nutty flavor carries raisin overtones and is considered quite accessible.

Suggested bottle: Dow's Boardroom ($23) has characteristics like toffee and nuts, as well as a luscious chocolate cherry flavor.

A Colheita is a tawny from a single vintage that is aged at least seven years in wood before bottling. It is the rarest of ports, amounting to less than 0.5% of all port production. The wine label should indicate the year of bottling and the wine should be drunk within a year of that date. A Colheita has a faded color and a nutty flavor with a lingering rich dried fruit finish.

Suggested bottle: Kopke Colheita Port 1990 ($25) is a sweet and elegant wine, medium-bodied with a long finish. It has a deep garnet color with aromas of chestnut, pear and dried berries.

White port

White ports are comparatively new to the market. First introduced by Taylor's in 1934, the wine is made from white grapes and comes in both a sweet and a dry style. White port is produced in the same manner as red port, with the drier styles aged in casks for up to 10 years. White port is typically consumed chilled as an aperitif, but its distinctive taste isn't considered to have a universal appeal.

Suggested bottle: Lagrima Blanco White Port ($12) is a full-bodied white port with a straw color and aromas of dried fig, smoke, hazelnut, and raisin.

Crusted port

So named because of the deposit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, a crusted port is not filtered before being bottled. The wine was invented for the British palette as an alternative to a vintage or late-bottled vintage port. It's a full-bodied wine available at an economical price, but it must be decanted before serving.

Suggested bottle: Dow's Crusted Port ($25) has a spicy cherry flavor with chocolate and cinnamon notes. It starts out creamy and finishes on a crisp note.

Vintage character port

These are also called Super or Premium Ruby ports. The wine is aged four to six years before being filtered and bottled. A vintage character port has more body and fruit than a tawny, but lacks the complexity of a true vintage port.

Suggested bottle:
Warre's Premium Ruby Warrior Port ($20) is a full-bodied sweet port with low tannins.
Find out the difference between late-bottled vintage and vintage ports...

Single-quinta (estate) port

A single-quinta port is made in both the tawny and vintage styles; it simply means that the wine comes from a single vineyard. These wines are generally produced in years that are not declared. "Declared" is a port-maker's term for years of grape production that are considered to be exceptional and during which vintage ports are produced. Single-quintas are considered to be the next best thing to full vintage ports and are usually available at a much lower price. These wines can be drunk upon release or aged further in the bottle.

Suggested bottle:
Duas Quintas Reserva 1999 ($35) has flavors of dark plum and chocolate.

Late-bottled vintage (LBV) port

An LBV is a port made from a single vineyard, but typically one that is not good enough to make a true vintage port. The wine is left to age in wood for four to six years before being filtered and bottled. LBVs are ready to drink sooner than full vintages and do have some sediment in the bottle.

Suggested bottle:
Graham's Late-Bottled Vintage ($15) is a lush, full-bodied wine with a sweet, lingering finish. It is characterized by an opaque purple color and tastes of raisins and other dried fruit.

Vintage port

Vintage port is considered the king of ports. It is the finest and most expensive style of port, accounting for about 4% to 5% of all port production. Vintners often stake their reputations on the quality of their vintage. A vintage port comes from a single harvest of exceptional quality; winemakers will declare their grapes in a particular year if they feel the production is good enough. The first vintages were declared in 1734 and vintage production years are considered to occur once or twice a decade, with the exception of the 1990s, which saw four years (1991, 1992, 1994, and 1997) declared.

The wine itself is bottled after two or three years of cask aging and is then allowed to age in the bottle for between five and 50 years. Vintage ports are bottled unfiltered and must be decanted before serving.

Suggested bottle:
Vintage Port 2000 ($30) is a really great wine. Strong raisin flavors with fine tannins and a long, sweet finish.

Serving, storing and drinking port

Like any wine, there's more to know about drinking port than just pouring and sipping. The wine is usually served with dessert, with the exception of white ports, which are usually served chilled as an aperitif. Serve port in a narrow, colorless port glass, filled only halfway so that the wine can be swirled around the glass to release its bouquet, and to savor the color and aroma.

Can you keep an open bottle or will you be forced to drink it all in one sitting?

Your Complete Guide To Port

Ports that are matured in the bottle (vintage, crusted and quinta) must be decanted before serving to remove the sediment from the bottle. With these wines, the bottle should be stored upright for at least 24 hours before serving to allow the sediment to settle. The wine should then be poured into the decanter in one smooth pour. Stop pouring when the first of the sediment begins to appear in the neck of the bottle.

The tradition most commonly associated with port holds that the decanter is first put in front of the host, who serves the guest on his or her right before passing the decanter clockwise around the table. This tradition is to avoid incurring the wrath of the devil who lurks over your left shoulder. The decanter then continues around the table until it ends again with the host.

Port should be stored at between 55ºF and 65ºF, and if the bottle has a cork stopper, it should be stored on its side. Many vintage port bottles will have a white mark painted on the side of the bottle; this white mark should be kept facing up at all times. Port bottles with plastic corks, on the other hand, should be stored upright to avoid contaminating the flavor of the wine.

Port should usually be served between 65ºF and 68ºF -- room temperature is too warm. The wine should be sipped gently to appreciate its complex flavor. Never re-cork a high-quality bottle of port; the entire bottle should be drunk right away or stored in a decanter for short periods of time. Ports of lesser quality, once opened, can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

The flavor of port is complemented best by strong cheeses, such as cheddar and stilton, which can stand up to its right, full-bodied nature. Nuts, berries and cigars also stand up well to the wine.

If you're feeling less adventurous, there are a handful of port cocktails that may help develop your taste for the wine. A Chip Chip consists of one part dry white port and two parts tonic water, served over ice with a sprig of mint. A port cocktail is made from 2 oz of ruby port and a dash of brandy stirred over ice and strained into a cocktail glass.

Drink it like it's port

There's a lot to know about port. It's a very complex wine featuring all sorts of intricate flavors. Novice drinkers are usually best to start with a lighter port, like a tawny or a ruby, to get familiar with the complexities of the wine. But no matter the type of port, one of the best rules of thumb to follow is to go with a bottle from a recognized vintner.


Your Complete Guide To Port


Post a Comment

Hi, please feel free to share your comment here.
For example: Which pictures is the best?