Port: A Drink For The Season

Port WinesFew wines are savored as easily as a glass of Port. There is something inherently warming and sophisticated about Port that even non-connoisseurs can appreciate. However, with its unique characteristics, Port stands apart from other wines. The wide variety of styles, degrees of sweetness and assortment of colors can be cause for more than a little confusion. As Port's peak season is upon us, we offer a quick refresher on one of the world's iconic wines.

True Port is a product of the rugged mountainside vineyards of Portugal's Douro River Valley. Here the five principle grape varieties from which Port is made grow in areas best suited to their individual characteristics, developing the flavors, structure and color each will bring to the final wine.

Blended red wines from the great regions of the world are not unique. Port's defining characteristic is the fortification process, in which the addition of brandy half-way through fermentation raises the alcohol percentage to 17-20%. This puts an end to the natural fermentation by yeast and leaves behind the unfermented grape sugars we know as Port's signature sweetness.

Like Champagne, Port has its imitators in other wine-producing areas around the world, California and Australia chief among them. As the value can be excellent, we stock and recommend many of these quality wines as well, but true Port is individual in its flavor and the wide varieties of styles in which it is available.

Port Primer

WOOD AGED PORTSStyles deriving their flavors from the amount of time spent in cask before bottling. Intended for immediate consumption; no significant benefit to aging.
  • Ruby Port - A non-vintage blend of wine aged three to five years. Enjoyed for their soft, spicy, juicy vibrancy. Generally the youngest and sweetest wine from any given producer.
  • Vintage Character/Reserve Port - Perhaps more accurately called Premium Rubies. These too are multi-vintage blends, but from the region's top ranked vineyards with an emphasis on fruit and richness.
  • Late Bottle Vintage Port - The product of a single vintage, made more often than Vintage Port, but not every year. Cask aged for four to six years to be ready to drink on release.
  • Crusted Port - Created to appeal to the Vintage Port drinker. Generally blended, these full, vigorous Ports spend only a few years in cask before they are bottled. As a result, it will age better than other non-vintage ports and will throw a sediment or "crust" after a few years in the cellar.
  • Tawny Port - Base Ruby Port is aged in cask for years, slowly oxidizing until they take on their signature mahogany hue and then blended. Lighter in body and color and noticeably drier than Ruby Port. Enjoyed for their elegance and warm, nutty, caramel and vanilla flavors.
  • Age-Dated Tawny Port - 10, 20, 30 and 40 year Tawny. The age statement refers to the average of the wine in the blends. Small amounts of younger wine are added for freshness and vigor to older wine that offer complexity and refinement. The older the blend, the deeper and more elegant the wine.
  • Colheita Port - Colheita Port"vintage" or "crop." These are vintage-dated (from a single year) Tawny Ports. Their silky texture and mature flavors are the result of long cask aging before bottling, sometimes for decades.
BOTTLED AGED PORTWines with shorter cask aging that develop most of their character as they mature in the bottle.
  • Vintage Port - The most expensive and cherished of Port wines. These are single-year bottling, produced in only the finest vintages and represent only 2% of the region’s total production. They possess a power and richness not found in other forms of Port and will age, gaining in depth and complexity, for three or four decades.
  • Single Quinta Port - A single vineyard Port that is also a vintage-dated. Made from the Port producers finest vineyard, these wines are generally made in above average years, but those in which the House does not "declare" a vintage and make its standard Vintage Port. These can be exceptionally good buys.

Suggested Food Pairings

RUBY PORTSSoft-ripened cheeses, pears poached in Port, cheesecake.
TAWNY PORTSDried apricots, aged Gouda, lighter blue cheeses, mocha brownies.
LATE BOTTLE VINTAGE AND CRUSTED PORTSDark chocolate, toasted almonds, Parmigiano-Reggiano or other hard aged cheeses.
VINTAGE PORTSStilton, walnuts or a good cigar.

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