Port Wines are produced exclusively in the Douro Valley of Northern Portugal. While port style wines are made in other areas around the world, the European Union Protected Designation of Origin restricts the use of the label of Port to be used anywhere but from the region of Douro. A neutral grape spirit (often brandy, known as beneficio) is added to the wine, fortifying it thus halting the fermentation process. This results in a high amount of residual sugar left in the wine, along with a boosted alcohol content.
Port wine is dominantly produced by one (or a blend) of five grape varietals:
Port Wine comes in many different styles, the primary ones being:
White Port Wines, which are made from a blend of grapes, are lighter in flavor than most Ports, and come in two varieties; dry and sweet. They are not meant to be matured much preceding its bottling. The oxidation prevents this type of port aging well.
Ruby Port Wines get their name from their bright ruby color. They are the youngest of all types of port wine, are ready for consumption once bottled and will not change much with age.
Crusted Port Wine is a type of Ruby Port which has been aged for 3 years. It is made from a blend of varietals and gets its name from the fact that it’s not filtered prior to bottling. This causes sediment compromised of grape skins, seeds and stems to settle in the bottle and makes decanting a necessity to its consumption.
Tawny Port Wines, in comparison to the two aforementioned ports, are aged with much more oxidation. This process lasts anywhere from 2-7 years in casks. This aging process imparts a nutty taste onto the port. As a general rule of thumb concerning Tawny Ports, the older it is, the more delicate the bouquet, the paler it is in color, the drier it is and the more expensive it tends to be.
Vintage Port Wines are produced entirely from grapes harvested in the vintage year declared on their labels. The shipper/porthouse decides to declare a vintage, only in the best harvesting years, which occurs only a few times a decade. After being aged in their barrels for a maximum of two years, they are to be aged in the bottle for an additional 10-30 years. The short barrel maturation period causes the liquid to retain its deep color and fruit like qualities.
Most ports are served at the end of a meal as they have a warm and calming effect. The exception to this is white port, which is more traditionally served as an aperitif. Don’t let these guidelines stop you however, from drinking it whenever cravings arise!