Produced in the mountainous Douro region in Northern Portugal for thousands of years, Port is among the most iconic wines of the world. Douro was the first wine-producing region in the world to be legally demarcated, and its vineyards were classified in 1756, nearly a century before the famous Bordeaux region of France.
Although port is produced in the Douro region, it is named after the coastal city of Porto. Historically, the wine from the region was placed on boats and transported down the river Douro to Porto, where it was readied to be exported to England and the rest of the world. Today, adventurous port enthusiasts can book a tour via Colorado-based Natural Habitat Expeditions to kayak the river and visit many of the great port producers.
Port is a rich, smooth wine that is approximately 20 percent alcohol-by-volume and commonly enjoyed as a dessert drink. Brandy is added to port during the fermentation process in order to fortify the wine, a method that was first used thousands of years ago in order to preserve the wine while it was shipped to England. Fortification gives port incredible aging potential. Over the years, a young port’s firm tannins and sharp fruit flavors will yield to pleasant smooth, mellow flavors, and its color will change from deep ruby red to an amber, “tawny” color.
Styles of Port
Nineteenth-century writer Henry Vizetelly wrote, “There are as many styles of port wine as shades of ribbon in a haberdasher’s shop.” There may be dozens of varieties of port wine, but, fortunately, they can be broken down into two main categories: wood-aged port and bottle-aged port.
Although both spend some amount of time in wood casks or vats, wood-aged port does all of its aging in casks. Once bottled, it no longer ages and is ready to drink. Bottle-aged port, on the other hand, is not filtered and does the majority of its aging in the bottle. Bottle-aged port often takes 15 years or longer to become ready to drink.
Wood-aged Port includes ruby port, which is blended from young, non-vintage wines (lower quality harvests). It spends only a short period, usually two to six years, in a vat before it is bottled. Ruby tends to be dark and fruity and is usually the most affordable style of port. Tawny port is blended from multiple vintage wines (higher quality harvests) and is aged longer in vats. Tawny is often sold in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old varieties and is lighter and more complex than ruby. Colheita is similar to Tawny, but is from a single vintage. Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) is made from a single vintage that is filtered and bottled four to six years after harvest. It is generally ready-to-drink when bottled and therefore should not be confused with vintage port.
Bottle-aged Port, also known as Vintage port, represents a single exemplary year and is among the most expensive styles of port. Not all years are deemed vintage quality, but those that are spend two years in the vat before being bottled to begin their arduous aging process. Most vintage port won’t shine for 15 years, and some can age for 50-100 years.
How to enjoy Port
Vintage port should always be decanted since there will be a layer of sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Great care should be taken to make sure that the sediment is not poured into the decanter. Once decanted, it should then be poured into a special port glass with inward sloping sides and a five to six ounce capacity. Although decanting is always recommended, many of the other styles of port wines can be poured directly into the glass.
Wine Enthusiast magazine produces a useful phone app to recommend what vintages are ready to drink. According to the app, 1984 is currently drinking particularly well.
Port is often consumed after a meal, as it pairs particularly well with a cigar, chocolate, cheese, nuts, pie or cake. However, many port fanatics will agree that good port pairs particularly well with none other than more port.