White Port is a white fortified wine from the Douro region of Portugal.
Port wine takes its name from Portugal’s second-largest city, Oporto (also known as Porto). Though the wine is produced in the rural Douro Valley, the city is the wine’s spiritual home. Traditionally, Port wines are matured and eventually shipped from the Port lodges along the riverfront of Villa Nova de Gaia.
White Port is produced from a blend of different white wine grape varieties, with the best known including Esgana Cão (known elsewhere as Sercial) and Malvasia Fina. Both are better known as two of the four noble grape varieties used in Madeira production. Other white Port grape varieties include Arinto, Cercial, Donzelinho Branco, Folgasão, Gouveio Branco, Rabigato Branco, Viosinho, Vital and Verdelho, to mention just a few of those permitted and recommended by the industry’s regulatory body, the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto.
Production of white Port is quite similar to that of red Port, with a key distinction being a shorter (or non-existent) maceration period for white Port. In both cases, the alcoholic fermentation is arrested by the introduction of a neutral grape spirit of about 77% alcohol-by-volume. The high alcohol kills off the yeast before it has had time to complete alcoholic fermentation, meaning before all the grape’s sugars are fully converted into alcohol. This process is known as fortification, and results in a fortified wine that is high in both sugar and alcohol. White Port typically has somewhere between 16.5% and 20% abv.
A typical white Port shows a golden color, aromas of honey and nut, and has low acidity. Even those white Ports labelled as “dry” or “extra dry” will have some residual sugar, and sweetness levels range from off-dry to fully sweet.
Most producers mature their wines in neutral vessels of stainless steel or concrete. Some white Port is aged in wood casks, however, to impart color and complexity. Wood-aged white Port tends to show a darker gold color, more complex aromas and a distinctively nutty character. Most white Port is aged for no more than three years, often closer to 18 months.
Higher-end white Ports may be bottled and labelled with a designation of age, not unlike an aged tawny Port. Producers of very high quality white Port may release 10-, 20-, 30-, or 40-year-old white Port.
The sweetest style of white Port is known as Lagrima, meaning “tears.” These wines are highly viscous, so when swirled in the glass they readily show “tears” or “legs.” Lagrima-style white Port is rarely exported, intended primarily for the domestic market.
White Port is most often served as an apéritif or as a cocktail ingredient.
When you’re searching for the perfect after dinner drink, browse Wine Enthusiast’s online database. You’ll find hundreds of reviews on white Ports and other quality wines to help you in your selection.