Perplexed by Port?

Don’t know your ruby from your tawny? Wondering what the difference between vintage and late bottled vintage might be? Let us fill you in!

Why Is It Called Port?

Just to recap, Port is a fortified wine. In the EU port has Protected Designation of Origin status so that only such wine produced in Portugal may be called ‘Port’.

It is produced from grapes grown in the Duoro Valley. The river Duoro flows South-west across the Iberian peninsula from its origin in Spain to where it meets the sea at Portugal’s second largest city, Porto.

It is ‘fortified’ by adding Aguardiente – a spirit similar to brandy – which makes up around a fifth of the finished drink and increases the alcohol content.

There are many different types of Port, we’ll cover the main ones here so at the very least you can impress your friends the next time you open some.

Vintage

The king of Ports. Produced in small quantities, these wines are independently certified by the Port and Duoro Wine Institute (IVDP). This body has been approving vintages since 1933.

If a shipper believes a wine from a particularly year is good enough they can declare it as a vintage. There are no rules governing how frequently this can be done, but getting it wrong can badly affect international reputation. Typically vintages are declared three of four times a decade.

Vintage Ports have the best flavour profiles and are incredibly desirable and valuable. Major shippers may declare between 5,000 and 15,000 cases. More recently shippers such as Quinta do Noval have declared as few as 1,000 cases.

The major disadvantage with Vintage Ports is that they generally do not reach their peak until they are 20 to 40 years old.

If you don’t have the patience to wait, and we certainly don’t, Aged Tawny Port is thankfully a fantastic alternative.

Aged Tawny

If Vintage is the king then this is most certainly the queen. So called as the ageing process changes the colour of the wine from a deep ruby red to an amber-tawny colour.

Aged tawnies are continuously monitored and blended to produce a wine with a deep and rich flavour. These are bottles as an approximate age (10, 20, 30, 40 and over 40) and are independently certified by the IVDP.

Although Vintage Port is undoubtedly the best, aged tawnies are almost as good and offer fantastic value. Best of all, you can drink them straight away instead of gazing at them lustfully for the the next three of four decades.

If you are sold on aged tawny then why not try our Quinta do Noval Ten Year Old Tawny Port or Twenty Year Old Tawny Port.

Late Bottled Vintage

This is wine produced from grapes from a single year but due to lack of demand is not bottled until four to six years after the vintage. These have evolved into two distinct types; filtered and unfiltered. Unfiltered wines need to be decanted to remove sediment. Filtered and fined wines can be consumed straight from the bottle and do not require decanting.

LBV’s do not tend to be as full bodied as vintage ports but are a fraction of the price. As they are left in barrels to age, once bottled they do not tend to improve much with age and are ready to drink immediately

Crusted Port

Often called ‘the poor man’s vintage port’, these are wines aged in large oak vats consisting of a blend of wines from several vintages. They are called ‘crusted’ due to the sediment they leave in the bottle.

Crusted ports can improve a little in the bottle but are generally intended to be consumed when purchased. The date on the bottle is the bottling date. Crusted ports are required to be aged in bottle for at least three years.

Reserve

These can be great value. They are a blend of higher quality wines aged for around seven years in wood.

Ruby

These are so named for their youthful colour and taste, aged for three years before bottling. These are intended to be enjoyed once purchased, like our own Quinta do Noval Ruby Port. Often wonderfully fun and do not need to be decanted.

White

These are made from white grapes and often bottled young. Great served with ice or as a refreshing cocktail. Our own Quinta do Noval Extra Dry White Port is a great example and you should definitely try it in a portonic!

Whichever type you choose remember that Port is not solely a Christmas drink! It can be enjoyed all year round so don’t restrict yourself to a few weeks of the year!

Image is by mat’s eye (Flickr: The Douro Valley) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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