Fortified Wine: A Further Look at Port

Last time we discussed fortified wines - wines with added alcohol. And Port is one of the classic fortified wines. 

From Portugal, this is a sweet fortified wine that was originally created so that it could be put on-board ships in Oporto Portugal and transported to London without spoiling. The high alcohol level (~20% ABV) acted as an excellent preservative. Soon the Oporto style of wines became known to the world as Port.

Port is made from indigenous Portuguese grapes. And while there are more than fifty grapes that fall into that category, the primary grapes used to produce Port are Touriga Franc, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.  Also note that to be called Port, it must be made in Portugal.

Styles of Port include:

  • Tawney Port: Blended, sweet, and amber-brown in color, this Port is barrel aged 2 to 40+ years. Tawny Ports tend to have nutty aromas and caramel flavors from natural oxidation in the cask.
  • Colheita: A single vintage Tawney Port, aged 10+ years. This Port is bottled only when the producer decides it is ready to drink, and should be enjoyed in the following year or so. The label should carry both the vintage and the bottling date.
  • Ruby Port: This style of Port is widely produced and aged just 2 to 3 years before being bottled. These Ports are meant to be enjoyed young. Aging is done in cement or steel tanks to prevent oxidization so the Port retains its fresh, fruity qualities. Because it is filtered (and sometimes pasteurized) before bottling, Ruby Ports do not improve with bottle age.
  • White Port - White Ports are blended together using a large number of grape varieties. The most commonly used varieties include Bical, Cerceal, Donzelinho Branco, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, and Viosinho. White Port is often lost in the mix by the better-known styles of Port but it is not rare or expensive, just not as widely distributed.
  • Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port: This is Ruby Port from a single year, chosen for its high quality and bottled after aging for four to six years in wood. It is released ready to drink.
  • Vintage Port: This is the highest quality single vintage Port. It is wood aged for two years before being bottled.  This Port matures well in the bottle transforming into a smooth, mellow wine that is rich and wonderfully aromatic.  Not just any year can be used to produce a Vintage Port. The major Port producers must declare it.  Typically three or four years out of a decade have harvests worthy of being called Vintage Ports. Recent vintage years were 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2003.

A Port glass is usually smaller than a regular wine glass and a serving size is around 3-ounces. It should be served just below room temperature, around 60 degrees F. So skip that dessert on a plate or in a bowl and enjoy a glass of Port for your next dessert. And try it with blue cheese and salted or smoked nut!  Cheers!