Drink With Me Blog
This festive season, when we can finally (fingers crossed) be together with our loved ones once again, is one laden with the possibilities of delicious food and wine to enjoy with friends and family. Amongst this plethora of delicacies, Port has to be up there in the top 5 of choice for Christmas fare. I don’t think there has been a single Christmas where a bottle of Port hasn’t graced my house and been promptly consumed and highly enjoyed. But what exactly is Port?
Port was essentially produced by the British, for the British, which is why if you look on the majority of Port bottles, the names are British. During the 17th Century when importing French wines into Britain was banned, we turned to Portugal to satiate our thirst. The only problem was that the wines of Portugal were too thin to really withstand the journey to Britain and by the 1850s winemakers discovered that the addition of brandy resulted in a stronger wine which could not only survive the journey but actually provide a rather pleasant dessert wine!
Port is the quintessential sweet, fortified wine, meaning a wine which has had alcohol added to it before, during or even after fermentation (the process to create the wine). Authentic Port is only made in the Douro Valley region of Portugal and its name is derived from the coastal city of Porto. There are over over 50 red and white recommended grapes that can be used to make Port, the most common being the local Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (which is the same as Tempranillo). To make Port the delicious sweet sticky wine that it is means it has to undergo a different production method to other wines.
Production of Port wines begins as other still wines. One charming feature of Port is that traditionally people would stomp the grapes once they are harvested with their feet in granite troughs called lagares to start the fermentation process. Nowadays that is generally done by a machine but there are a few houses that still use the old fashioned (and rather fun!) method. Just a few days into the fermentation process, a grape based spirit (usually brandy) is added to the wine which stops the fermentation process and helps to produce the rich fruity flavours of the Port which we know. Another result of this addition is that there will be more sugar left in the wine than in other still wines, which gives Port its rich, sweet, fruity and exquisite taste. Then typically the wines are placed into barrels and/or bottles to age.
Port is not just a one size fits all wine. There are actually several styles of Port which can be confusing for the drinker. Let’s look briefly at these possibilities so that you can make the perfect purchase this Christmas.
Typically, there are 2 main types of Port: Ruby and Tawny.
Ruby Port: these are your more budget friendly Ports, with an average of 3-5 years’ ageing. These are typically sweet and fruity and won’t break the bank! Ruby Ports tend to have more notes of blackberry, raspberry and chocolate notes.
Reserve Ruby Port: these are aged for longer than traditional Ruby Ports (average of 5-7 years old) and can be a blend of wines from different years blended together, like Ruby Port. These are full-bodied with rich fruit properties but with a little more complexity due to the longer ageing in cask.
Late Bottled Vintage Ports (LBV not to be confused with LBW!) are Ports made from a single year (vintage) and are aged for between 4-6 years in barrel which result in seriously delicious complex red fruit flavours.
Crusted Port is (unlike its rather off-putting name) is a delicious Port that is a blend of 2 or more years which is then aged in wooden barrels for up to 4 years then aged in the bottle for typically 3 more years to produce rich fruit notes. Its name is derived from the fact that it is unfiltered when it is bottled which produces a ‘crust’ of sediment which is to be removed before drinking.
Single Quinta Vintage Ports are Port wines that are made from one quinta, or estate from one particular year.
Vintage Port: this is the finest Port that you can buy. It simply means Port produced from one specific year. It is usually aged for 2-3 years in a barrel then aged in the bottle for a long period of time, resulting in full, rich and tannic wines that benefit from 20-40 years of ageing in the bottle! These are serious Ports for serious Port drinkers!
Tawny Port has two general styles; the first is a combination of white and young Ruby ports which produces more wallet friendly but still palatable Ports. This Port is aged for typically 2 years in barrels for an extended period of time to soften its flavour profile. The little bit of air let in through the barrel means that the wine is oxidised which creates the tawny brown colour. The other, Reserve Tawny, has been aged for at least 7 years in oak cask, allowing smooth notes of figs and cloves.
Colheita: This is a Port that is from a single vintage (year) which is aged in barrels for a legal minimum of 7 years (better quintas age them for longer) until just before their release. These are effectively very great Tawny Ports with real caramel and nutty flavour profiles.
Tawny Ports with age indications on them (10, 20, 30 or 40 years) has the year of bottling on the label. The number of years is actually an average of the years blended together in the bottle. These are complex and at times, exceptional (and not so purse friendly!). These Ports generally have typical notes of caramel, nutmeg and chocolate flavours.
There are also 2 other lesser known types of Port, White Port and the new Rosé Port.
White Port is a wine with notes of apricots, baked apple and citrus and are made from white grapes including Rabigato, Viosinho and Malvasia. This type of Port is usually drunk as an aperitif in a refreshing drink called ‘Port Tonic’ which brings out its citrus flavours. It is typically aged for a year in oak tanks and then is aged further in larger casks.
Rosé Ports are a new style of Port which have notes of strawberries and caramels! Best served chilled, these Ports have deliciously fruity notes of strawberry, raspberry and caramel flavours. Made from the same grapes as red Port, this is a refreshing alternative for the summer months!
So there you have it; you thought that Port was just one type of wine; well, think again! There is literally a whole world of Port out there for you to try this winter. Let us know which ones you try and what you think of them!