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What is Port Wine?

Port

Port Wine is a Wine that has been fortified and is classed as a special type of Fortified Wine.

Port is made in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It takes its name from the city of Oporto, the port from which wines are shipped around the world. Most ports are also aged in the city.

port

Port is sweet because the grape spirit is added part-way through the fermentation, thus stopping the conversion of grape sugar to alcohol. It is therefore essential to extract colour and tannins as quickly as possible before the spirit is added. This is why grapes were traditionally trodden by foot. Most ports are between 18% and 20% alcohol by volume. With port, it is the way the wines are matured that most influences the style.

Most ports are red. There are more than 40 authorised black grape varieties but the most important ones are: Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cao and Tinta Barroca.

The main grape varieties in white port are white: Gouveio (Verdelho), Malvasia Fina, Rabigate, Viosinho and Donzelinho.

Styles

There is a wide range of styles but they fall into two main categories: Those that are aged in wood and those that are aged in bottle.

  • Ruby: Young, deep ruby in colour, fruity, fiery and quite simple. Usually aged in bulk for 2-3 years before bottling, though some better ones, e.g. Warre’s warrior Special Reserve, are aged for up to five years. For immediate consumption.
  • Tawny: In theory, a wine that has been aged long enough in wood for the colour to have changed from ruby to tawny though there are a wide range of styles and quality levels within this category. Good ones are smooth and soft thanks to the long ageing in wood. Cheaper versions are no older than most ruby ports and are made from paler grapes and sometimes with the addition of white port. The best are those with an indication of age on the bottle.
  • Aged Tawny: These wines have been aged in wood for at least six years and are usually soft and silky. These are still non-vintage wines so the age indication of the label (e.g. 10 Year Old, 20 Year Old) are approximations. Nutty and delicate, such tawnies are often drunk chilled in Oporto. They do not need decanting.
  • Vintage: Made in only the best years and from the very best grapes, vintage ports represent only about one per cent of the entire port production. They are blended, but all the component wines are from the same vintage. Because they are bottled after only 2-3 years in cask, they throw a sediment and need decanting. Vintage ports need to be aged further in bottle, some up to 20 or 30 years, and they need to be decanted. When young, they are very full-bodied, with rich fruit and very firm tannins. The tannins and the spirit soften with age as the wines become more and more complex and delicious. Traditionally served at the end of a meal.
  • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): A wine made from a good but not great vintage and bottled in the 4th and 6th year after harvest. Confusingly, there are two broad styles within this category. Traditional LBV is bottled unfiltered and so needs decanting. It is rather like a lesser vintage port. The other, more common, style has been filtered and tends to be less intense. These wines do not need decanting.
  • Vintage Character: The name is confusing as these are not vintage wines. They are generally aged in bulk for up to five years and are rather like a premium ruby in style.
  • Crusted or Crusting: A British speciality that is not recognised in Portugal. A blend of wines is bottled unfiltered so that it needs decanting. Like Vintage Port, it continues to develop in bottle and so benefits from further ageing after purchase. The best ones are a very good alternative to Vintage Port.
  • Colheita: The Portuguese word means ‘harvest’ or ‘crop’. These wines must be aged in wood for at least seven years so they are rather like tawnies but from a single vintage. Best drunk within a year or so of bottling. No need to decant.
  • Single Quinta Vintage: These are wines from a single vintage and from a single quinta or vineyard. Often made in a year when a port house does not declare a Vintage port. They are made in much the same way as Vintage ports but are often held back from sale by the producer until they are considered ready for drinking. Decant.

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