Fortify Yourself: Learning the Basics of Port

A primer to the top Ports on the market today.


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Port wine, also known as Oporto, Porto and Port, is a sweet fortified wine made in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Though European Union guidelines protect the usage of the word "Port" and only allow the true Portuguese product to be labeled such, Porto or Vinho do Porto is made everywhere from California to Australia and beyond.

Port is produced in Portugal from specific native varietals and fortified with brandy. Port styles are determined by their aging process and the grape/wine quality selection.

Until 1985, Portuguese laws required grapes to be grown in one place, shipped elsewhere for vinification, and bottled in a third. Artful blending was essential. Now, single-vineyard (Quinta) estate produced Ports are delivering excellent results. In fact, a glass of the 1996 Malvedos Single Quinta Vintage Port and a piece of quality dark chocolate is as good a Port 101 lesson as you can find.


The three styles of Port:

Ruby: The most common Port, ruby Port has a deep claret color and rich, sweet flavors derived from the red wine grapes from which they are made.

Tawny: Nutty and mellow in flavor, tawny Ports are aged in oak casks which impart a caramel color, spicy flavors and smooth style to the wine. 

White: Made from white grapes and served chilled, white Port ranges from dry to very sweet. Refreshing with tonic & lime or as a cocktail base.


Cask Aged and Bottled Aged Ports offer complexity and dimension.

Cask Aged Ports break down into:
Reserve: Premium Ruby: Aged 3-5 years. Entry-level premium
Modern LBV: (Late Bottle Vintage): Aged 4-6 years. Lightly filtered. Young & fruit forward.
Aged Tawny: Blended to average 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old. Best of the cask aged. Cask-aged Ports should be served at cellar temperature or chilled.

Bottle Aged Ports are for aging, and are unfined & unfiltered. They are found in the following categories: Traditional LBV: One year's premium wine. Four years in cask. Great value.
Crusted: Known as "Poor man's vintage." 2-3 year blend handled like vintage.
Vintage: Single (non-declared) year. Two years max in cask.
Vintage Declared (Classic) Year: Declared only in exceptional years. Treasures.

View Ben Narasin's blog FoodWineLife.

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