What is Port?
Port is a fortified wine that comes from the Douro region of Portugal. You may have even seen it given the name 'Porto' or 'Oporto'; this started as to avoid misuse of the name, as only true Port comes from Portugal. There are over a hundred varietals permitted in the making of Porto, but only five are the most widely used: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. Port starts out as normal wine, but neutral grape brandy, aguardente, is added during fermentation, which stops the fermentation and leaves behind quite a bit of residual sugar. This is why Port is sweeter than Sherry (Sherry is fortified after fermentation).
The picturesque Douro Valley.
What are the different styles of Port?
Port can be divided into two categories: Cask-aged and Bottle-aged.
Cask-Aged Ports include Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) which is made from a single vintage but bottled 4-6 years after harvest which makes it lighter and ready to drink sooner than Vintage Port. Ruby Port, which is dark and fruity and blended from non vintage wines, Tawny Ports, which are lighter and more delicate and blended from many vintages, Aged Tawny which is aged in casks sometimes for up to 40 years or longer, and Colheita which is made from a single vintage but wood aged for a minimum of seven years.
Bottle-Aged Ports include Vintage Character is similar to LBV in style, but made from a blend of vintages from better years. Quinta Port is from a single vineyard (rare and expensive). Finally there's Vintage Port, all grapes must come from a declared vintage, aged minimum of 2 years in wood and will mature in the bottle over time.
Just a few of our favorites...
Is Port always RED?
Nope. Truthfully, half of the hundred varietals permitted in the making of Porto are white. However, there is such a thing as White Port, although the serious Port drinkers don't really acknowledge it. It can be dry or sweet, and is a lovely alternative in the summer time. You can drink it straight, mixed with tonic/seltzer, or in a Caipi Porto (basically a Caipirinha made with White Port instead of Cachaca).
How long does Port last for?
That depends on the style. Tawny Ports will not improve with age, and should be consumed somewhat close to the date of bottling (it's on the back label). LBV Ports are already exposed to oxidation for at least 2 years, are not meant for ageing, and fall apart faster upon opening. Vintage Ports, unopened and cellared properly, can age for 30-100+ years. In many cases, as far as opened bottle longevity is concerned, you get what you pay for. But to generalize, LBV's should be consumed within a week, Tawny within 2 weeks, and Vintage Port within a month. That being said, what is 'safe to drink' and what 'tastes good' are very different things. Due to a higher alcohol content and a fair amount of residual sugar, Port will not technically "go bad" for quite a while.
All the best.
Holly Phillips CS, Asst. Wine Director