All authentic Port comes from Portugal. The grapes are grown and the wine is fortified in Portugal. When shopping for authentic Port, look for the word “Porto” on the label. If “Porto” is not on the label, but the label says “Port,” the wine inside the bottle is made “in the style of Port.” You will find many non-authentic ports on store shelves, but a good retailer has a section of ‘real’ Ports for your shopping pleasure.
The most common styles of Port (there is also a White Port I’ll save for a later time):
Vintage Port: The most expensive, and made of grapes of exceptional quality from a single vintage, matured in wooden barrels for two years before bottling. The bottling process is a story for another time, but Vintage Port is the only authentic Port that ages in the bottle. Vintage Ports mature for many years before hitting store shelves, and few years qualify for “vintage” status
Single-Quinta Vintage Port: Single-Quinta ports are grapes from a single vineyard. Single-Quintas are produced when the year does not qualify for “vintage” status, but is still of very good quality, or…the growing season and the fruit may qualify for vintage status, but the market is flooded with Vintage Port, and so the wine is sold as Single-Quinta at a somewhat lesser price. When a winery has only one vineyard, and declares a vintage, the Port is both a Vintage Port and a Single-Quinta Vintage Port. Shop the Single-Quinta Ports for great value.
Late Bottled Vintage Port (L.B.V): May have the word ‘vintage’ on the label, but it isn’t really a vintage wine. The vintage year on the label denotes the year, not the quality of a true vintage port, and you will find on the label the year the wine was bottled as well. The grapes are always from a single harvest, and the wine stays in wooden barrels for four to six years. When an L.B.V. is put on your retailer’s shelf, it is generally ready to drink.
Tawny Port: A blend of wines from grapes of different years – and a great value because Tawnys are mature Ports when they arrive at your retail store. Authentic Tawny is aged in wood, and the best abide in wood for a minimum of 5 to 10 years. Some Port houses take great pride in their Tawnys, and sometimes offer them aged up to 30 – 40 years. Here’s a secret for Port shoppers: Vintage Ports generally do not improve beyond 20 years in wood, so the non-vintage Tawny from a good House can be a wonderful buy. The beautiful tawny color is a gift bestowed by the long wood aging.
“Vintage Character” Port: These are Ruby Ports, and you may see the words “Vintage” or “Character” on the label and you might not. Vintage Character Ports taken on the personality of their producer, they are elevated above the usual Ruby Port in quality. A few examples are Graham’s Six Grapes, which is sweet and fruity on the palate, and Fonseca’s Bin 27 which is full-bodied and opulent.
Ruby Port: a blend of young wine from different harvest years. It is wood-aged but reaches your store shelf under three years old. It is intended to be drunk young, in all it’s grapey, sweet goodness. There are a few exceptions to the aging. You might find a Ruby labeled “Reserve” or “Special” which indicates they have received an additional three years in wood before bottling.
Glassware: Port is a red wine. Use a decent sized red wine glass, not smaller than 8 ounces. Pour the glass no more than one-third full, swirl and enjoy that beautiful bouquet. It’s like no other wine.
Serving Temp: at temp of about 64-68℉ or 18℃. Some prefer Tawnies slightly chilled, and some like it over ice. Over ice you lose some of the complexity.
Serve With: Vintage Ports can be served with robust red meats, much like you serve a Super Tuscan or beefy Zinfandel, assuming you are an experienced wine imbiber. The most common way to serve port is after dinner as a dessert wine, with full-bodied and pungent cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola or Stilton. Aged Gouda and Cheddars work well. Add some celery sticks. Set out dried fruits – I love dried cherries with Port. Blueberries – delicious, apple slices. Dark chocolate is a must, nuts – especially walnuts, and cashews disappear quickly.
Once Opened: Vintage Port needs to be consumed within two or three days. L.B.V.’s and good quality aged Tawnies might last for a couple of weeks. In general, the alcohol content is around 20%.