The Port Wine Guide
By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
Port is a wine originating from the Douro river valley in Portugal and is named after the town of Oporto. The wine is a blend of grapes, the most common being Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Touriga Roriz (a.k.a. Spain’s Tempranillo). It is also “fortified”, meaning the neutral spirit Aguardente (sometimes simply referred to as Brandy) is added, which stops the remaining sugar from fermenting and raises the alcohol content to about 20 percent. Like Champagne and Cognac, if it’s not from Portugal it is technically not Port. Interestingly, it is the British that are most responsible for the invention. During a political conflict in the late 17th century the English boycotted French wine and replaced their love of Bordeaux with red wine from Portugal. To protect the juice from spoiling during the long voyage back to England they added a ‘wee bit’ of Brandy. Various port styles exist depending on oak-aging, filtering, time in the barrel or time in the bottle. Here are the various styles.
Ruby Ports, so named for their distinct dark garnet color, are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas. It is a blend of a number of grapes from one or more vintages, and matured for 2-3 years in oak barrels.
Tawny Port is matured for a longer time in barrels, typically 5-7 years, but can be aged for 40+ years. Tawny port takes on more of a nutty character with less overt fruit than ruby port but greater aroma and complexities, owing to its controlled micro-oxidation through the barrel.
Tawny Ports come in three different styles: Colheita, Crusted or Indicated Age. A Colheita Port 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.
Late-bottled Vintage (LBV)
An LBV Port is a Ruby Port made from grapes of a single harvest: The vintage of which can be stated on the label and can be filtered or unfiltered. They are bottled after aging in barrel for 4-6 years. Filtered LBV Port is popular with consumers because of its vintage style without the hefty price tag.
Vintage Port is produced from a blend of the best grapes in a single vintage worthy of the highest quality rating. It is bottled without any filtering following a short two-year maturation period in oak casks, and can then be aged in the bottle for 10, 20, 30 or more years. The structure of the wine and its potential for aging are the major criteria for a Vintage Port. If all quality factors align Portugal’s Port Wine Institute approves it and declares it a Vintage year. There have been only 35 declared Vintage Ports since 1900.
Rose Port is a recent addition to the market. It is technically a Ruby Port but made like a rose wine, in which a little exposure to the grapes skins gives it a rose color.
White Port is made using the region’s allowable white grapes in a wide variety of styles, from dry to very sweet.
Many producers still use the traditional, “I love Lucy-style” foot treading for pressing the fruit!
The Port Wine Guide