As we enter the Holiday Season, this is a time when port wine really shines the brightest. People bring it to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, holiday parties, give it as gifts, and fill truffles with it. Its rich sweetness warms your body from the inside out when it’s cold out, and its intense fruit flavors go so well with the spices and desserts of autumn and winter. So, to highlight this unique style of wine for the season, here is a primer on the many different types of port wine available.
What defines port as a wine style is the addition of high-proof alcohol during fermentation to ensure that much of the natural grape sugars are left unconverted by yeast. So, what you are left with is a high-sugar, high-alcohol wine that has a long shelf life, perfect for pairing with desserts, strong and sharp cheeses, nuts, and dried fruit. So, how do you know know which style fits your situation? Keep in mind, these mainly refer to ports made in Portugal. Winemaking techniques can vary in other parts of the world, but the basic guidelines are usually followed.
White port is fortified sweet wine made from white grapes. Technically, it can be made from just about any white grape, but traditionally, it is made from Portugese varietals such as Donzelinho Branco and Gouveio. It can be aged in the ruby or tawny style.
Ruby ports are young ports. They are usually bottled anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. They can be blends or single varietals, and can be from multiple or single vintages. They are meant to be enjoyed young and don’t have much bottle age before release. They are usually the most fruit-forward ports, full of blue (blueberry, blackberry, plum) and red (strawberry, raspberry, cherry) fruits.
Tawny ports are aged for several years in barrel until they get a light, browned color (tawny). Tawnys can be aged for 40 years or more before they are bottled. They can be made up of several vintages in a blend, or just one (called colheita). If the age is listed on the label, then they must at least have the characteristic of a port of that barrel age, they do not have to actually be that old. Because of their barrel age (and tawny ports are not typically kept from oxygen exposure), their color fades, and their bouquets and flavors are reminiscent of caramel, nuts, dried fruit, butterscotch, toffee, graham cracker, and nut brittle.
This is a style of a vintage-labeled port that has spent some time in barrel (3-6 years) and at least 8 years in small glass jugs called carboys or demijohns.
This is a fairly new style of port that is aged in the ruby style, but with red grapes that have had little contact with their skins, resulting in a rosé color.
A vintage port is port where all the wines in the blend are of the same vintage. Traditionally, vintage ports are only made from the best vintages. These ports don’t get much barrel age, usually less than a year, but get many years of bottle age before releasing.
Late Bottled Vintage
A LBV port is similar to a vintage port in that all the wines in the blend come from the same vintage, but they receive more barrel aging, 4-6 years, and are released within a few years after bottling. They typically are not meant to age in the bottle as long as a vintage port, and are not usually made from the higher quality vintage grapes, which are reserved for vintage ports.
This term generally refers to a port that is unfiltered and therefore will form a crust of sediment in the bottle. The may be labeled with a vintage, but it will be the year it was bottled, not the year of harvest. They can be blended from multiple vintages and are less expensive and more ready to drink than vintage ports.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
These are ports where all the wines in the blend come from the same estate vineyard. Often these are given a vintage on the label, but will also say “Quinta do (estate name)”. Many producers will release these in years that a Vintage port was not declared, sort of as a second label (less prestigious in quality than the Vintage examples).
While there are many fine Portugese ports out there, I would like to remind you that Aristo has an excellent, well balanced ruby port available. It has extraordinary blue fruit-forward flavors unlike most ports I’ve ever had, as well as hints of chocolate and vanilla. I encourage you to bring a bottle to your next holiday gathering as a host gift or after-dinner treat, or just enjoy a glass at home with dessert at the end of a satisfying day. Myself….I’m off to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with my Aristo port in hand!