Port is a fortified wine. Fortified wines are wines where spirits - usually grape brandy - are incorporated. This addition of alcohol kills the yeasts and stops fermentation before all the sugars are gone. The wine then moves to barrels where they are aged up to 40 years. Port was created so that wine could survive long ocean voyages. They can be made with either red or white grapes.
Port takes its name from the city, Oporto (Portugal), from where it has been shipped for a few hundred years. Production occurs over 40 miles downstream from the vineyards in Duoro where there are three subregions. The vineyards in Baixo Corgo produce the lightest wines, Cima Corgo is where most of the top vineyards are found and Duoro Superior, while planted more sparingly, is also a source of quality Port.
Each year authorities dictate how many grapes may be used for Port with the remainder being turned into still wines. Twenty-nine varieties are recommended for use in the production of Port. The best known reds are Tinta Roriz (which is the local name for Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Cao and Tina Barroca. Better known whites are Sercial, Verdelho, Malvasia Fina and Viosinto.
There are four major categories of Port. Ruby Port is deep in color, fruity and ready to drink. It may taste similar to some sweet wines you may have had. They will be labeled "Ruby Port,” "Reserve Ruby Port,” "Late Bottled Vintage(LBV)" or "Traditional Style LBV.” Reserve Ruby Port is a blend of multiple vintages that is aged in cask up to five years. A Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV, is made from a specific year’s vintage and is aged four to six years before bottling.
Tawny Port is paler, browner and smoother with complex nutty aromas. A Tawny with Indication of Age will be labeled either 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. It is important to know that the age stated is not the actual age, but is an average age of the vintages inside. These Ports must state the year of bottling. With age, the palate has changed to walnut, almond, caramel and coffee. Colheita is a rare, single vintage Port with a minimum of eight years of aging.
Vintage Ports are the longest lived of all of the Port wines and are intended to do most of their aging in the bottle versus the cask. They are bottled between 18 months and three years. Any producer can declare a vintage and the wines will be blends of grapes from their finest vineyards. Single Quinta Vintage Ports are made from a single top quality vineyard and the name of the quinta (estate) appears on the label. It is tradition with some to gift a newborn with a Vintage Port from his or her birth year to save until adulthood.
White Ports are, of course, made with white grapes. They are golden in color and will be off-dry to sweet. They will spend three to four years in cask before bottling.
Choose a Ruby Port to compare with a Tawny Port for this exercise. This will give you a very good idea of what basic differences there are between the two styles. If you know you already like Ruby Ports, compare a standard Ruby to a Late Bottled Vintage. You may also find it interesting to compare a standard Old World from Portugal to a New World port wine. Australia has some good samples on the market.
You may wish to invite a friend or two over to help with your experimentation but, if you don’t, it is okay as they will keep awhile. If you do invite friends, either keep them around for a bit or advise them to bring a designated driver, as the alcohol content in Port ranges between 18 and 20%.
If you find that you are a fan of Port, there is a “Port Appreciation Society” on Facebook where members can share old favorites and new discoveries.
On The Label
Port, Late Bottled Vintage, Colheita
In The Bottle
Ruby: Red fruit, dark fruit, dried fruit
Tawny: Caramel, nuts, vanilla, dried fruit, creme brulee
At The Table
Ruby: Desserts, Chocolate
Tawny: Hard cheese, dried fruits, nuts (my absolute favorite - almonds), chocolate, nutty desserts
|"for a new generation of port drinkers"|
Photo credit (Port Wine, above): http://rundangerously.blogspot.com/2009/10/vintage-port-tasting-at-zachys.html