Port wine though typically associated with Portugal, really owes at least part of its invention to England as a direct by-product of battling France. Basically, the English boycotted French wine in the late 17th century as a result of war and began buying their wine from Portugal. The Brits started adding a wee bit of brandy to the still wine to help sustain it during the voyage back to England. This brandy addition, served to give the still wine the fortitude to make the long trip on a rocking boat, but it also made the wine considerably sweeter to boot. Ports have a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. If you are a fan of desserts, then Port may be your new pairing partner, as they accommodate a number of dessert options with ease and added versatility.
What is Port
Portugal's Douro Valley is the key viticultural region for growing the more than 50 different local red and white grapes used for making Port. While the majority of Port is made from red wine grapes there is a category, known as "White Port," that as the name implies, is made from white wine grapes. By definition, Port is made by taking a still wine and adding brandy to it. The name “Port” is derived from the coastal city of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, and the key city found on the mouth of the Douro river. Port is now being made in several countries, but to experience what authentic Port delivers, you might want to opt for the true blue Portugal Port, designated as “Porto” on the bottle’s label.
Types of Port:
In broad terms, Port can be split into two distinct categories: Wood Aged or Bottle Aged. The only true bottle aged port is a Vintage Port, while the other Ports are all Wood Aged to some extent. In general, Port starts life as a red wine (unless of course it is a “white Port”) and then it's typically aged in wood casks or in the bottle (if it’s a Vintage Port).
Ruby Ports, so named for their distinct ruby color, are the economical, entry-level Ports, made from a mix of both grapes and vintages and “aged” for a total of 3 years. One year of aging does actually occur in an oak cask and the other two years of “aging” is supposed to occur in the bottle; however, Ruby Port does not technically continue to age in the bottle because it is typically already oxidized. Ruby Ports are designed to be consumed young.
Foods to Pair with a Ruby Port: Blue cheese, milk chocolate and berry-based desserts.
A Tawny Port is lighter in both color and body when compared to a Ruby Port and typically lies on the slightly sweeter side of the spectrum. As a tawny Port spends more time in oak, it’s color start to fade from ruby red to more ruby-orange, Technically "brick red" and sometimes increasing to an almost mahogany color. It’s tastes become nuttier and the flavors begin to develop the rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates and prunes compared to the Ruby Port. On the label, the age is most commonly designated as 10, 20, or 30 years. These year designations are the average compilation of various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend. 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 vintage year. While 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.
Foods to Pair with a Tawny Port: Aged cheddar cheese, caramel apples or apple pie, dried fruit, milk or dark chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu, pumpkin or pecan pie.
A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of blended grapes, usually from various vineyards, which are all from the same vintage year, hence the name. Vintage Port typically spends about 6 months in oak and then goes unfiltered and unoxidized into a bottle for further aging. This further aging is typically to the tune of another 20 years! As a direct result of this long-term aging, you can expect a pretty heavy layer of sediment that requires decanting and a good bit of aeration to take place prior to consumption. 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 to mistake with the "Vintage Port" designation is the "Late Bottled Vintage" Port (LBV). This particular style of Port is made with grapes from a single vintage, but it has only aged 4-6 years in oak before it is bottled and released.
Foods to Pair with a Vintage Port: Blue and Stilton cheese, almonds and walnuts, chocolate and chocolate-based desserts and puffed-pastries.
As the name implies, is derived from white grape varietals and can be made in both the very dry to semi- sweet styles. White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines. 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.
Storing and Serving Port
Vintage Ports should be stored on their sides, in a dark, cool environment like their still wine counterparts. Ruby and Tawny Ports are ready to drink once released and can either be stored upright or on their sides. Once opened Ports can last from a day (Vintage Port) to several weeks for Ruby Ports and several months for Tawny Ports. For opened Ports the determining factor for whether it will last a day or weeks is the amount of time it has spent oxidized and in oak. When serving Port shoot for keeping the serving temperature right around 65 degrees.
Port Producers You can Count On:
Quinta do Noval