Did You Know?The term 'port' can only be used for fortified wines prepared in the Douro Valley of Portugal. A similar kind of wine prepared anywhere else in the world cannot be labeled as Port, according to the international labeling agreements.
Produced from the famous varieties of Port grapes grown in the Demarcated Region of the Douro Valley, in Portugal, port wines are fortified wines with intense fruity aromas and high alcoholic content (19 - 22%). They are rich, sweet, full-bodied wines that owe their complex and intense flavor to the plethora of grape varieties used in their making. This simply means that various varieties of grapes have been used to prepare this type of wine, which means port is not a varietal.
Thus, each grape variety contributes in a different way to give this wine its unique flavor and texture. Moreover, when we say port is a fortified wine, it means that a small amount of brandy or neutral grape spirit has been used to fortify the wine. During the grape juice fermentation process, when half of the natural sugars have been converted into alcohol, brandy or spirit is added so as to cease fermentation, leaving the rest of the sugars intact. This is why port wine is high in alcohol, but still sweet enough for us to enjoy. Port wines vary in style depending on the grapes used, aging process, and various other factors.
Types of Port Wines
While the subject of port wines is very vast, with various categories and sub-categories, let's take a look at its basic classification to give you a better understanding of the different styles of the port spectrum.
Named after their tawny hue, these wines have been aged in wooden barrels, wherein they undergo an oxidation process that gives them their pale reddish-brown shade. The distinctive factor about this type is its aging process. It is aged for years―a minimum of 6 - 7 years, but can even be aged for as long as 10 - 40 years. The age may or may not be displayed on the bottle. Tawny wines are prepared from a blend of different wines, and the longer it is aged in the barrel, the more complex and flavorful it is. Tawnies can be had immediately once opened, and do not call for decanting.
This style owes its unique flavor to the wooden casks in which it has been aged. With a sweet, nutty, and mellow characteristic, this wine is loved for its delicate notes of caramel, vanilla, orange, apricot, plum, raisins, walnuts, figs, dates, etc., that emanate so beautifully with every sip. They are light, crisp, nutty, and silky smooth on the palate, and are loved for their refreshing style.
Besides being served as an aperitif, this wine can be served as a dessert wine, along with apple pies, orange tarts, almond cakes, ice cream, etc. It can also be paired with the main course―with dishes like grilled lamb, filet mignon, etc.
Ruby Port is a blend of young port wines that have been aged in neutral oak barrels or stainless steel vats for 3 - 5 years, and then filtered and bottled. Since they've been bottled before filtering, they can be had without decanting. Moreover, since they haven't been oxidized in the barrels, their fruity profile remains intact. These fortified wines are the most widely available style, and if you've had a port, it's most likely to be this kind. Ruby Ports are affordable and inexpensive, because they aren't aged for so long. Unlike the nutty Tawny, these wines are fruit-forward wines that should be drunk young, and even if they are stored in cellars, they do not improve in the bottle. So, always be on the look out for younger bottles.
Sweeter than the Tawny style, these wines are known for their fruit flavors and vibrant ruby red color. They burst with aromas of red berries and blackcurrant, and satiate your palate with fruity flavors of plum, strawberry, red apples, etc. Moreover, it's popularly known for its velvety smoothness that stands out among all the port styles.
It does well as an aperitif, but also goes well with cheese, especially intensely flavored soft cheeses. It also goes well with different desserts and red fruits. Then again, don't forget the chocolate pairing, like a rich, decadent chocolate truffle or brownie!
Among the ports, these vintage-styled ones hold a very special place. In fact, they are also touted as the 'King of Ports.' It's more like our exquisite Champagne, and comes with finesse and class, and of course is on the expensive side. So, what's so special about this wine style? Well, the first reason is that these ports have a different aging process. They are first aged for 2 years in barrels, after which they are transferred to bottles and allowed to mature, till they are stored in cellars for years together―even as long as 20 years. If their preparation process takes so long, it's sure to be pricey. Secondly, not frequently will you find Port Houses 'declaring' wines as 'vintage', and when they do, it's usually after a good wine-making year. These wines need to be decanted before they're consumed.
With so much effort put into its aging, a Vintage Port definitely does justice to all the hard work put in. With intense aromas and rich fruity flavors, this legendary wine simply sweeps you off your feet. The depth, weight, grace, and texture of this sweet rich wine are beyond words, and unlike any wine you've tried out. You need to simply try it to believe it!
People prefer to pair the classic Vintage Port with a cigar; however, if you don't want the cigar to overwhelm the unique flavors of the wine, it's important to pair the wine with the right kind of cigar, like in the case of food pairing. In terms of food pairings, Vintages complement dark chocolate, blue cheeses, dark fruit desserts, and even tropical fruits.
With a lower (2 - 3% lower) alcohol content as compared to their red counterparts, this white wine style is again prepared from a blend of different kinds of white grapes. The wines are aged in stainless steel tanks or wooden barrels, wherein it is aged for the next one and a half to two years. However, the drier versions can be left to age in barrels or casks for even a decade. They can be divided into two basic types: sweet (lágrima) and dry (seco). They can further be divided depending on the sweetness gradient as Extra Seco, Seco, Doce, and Lágrima. These wines are best had young, unless you're having the 'Reserva White' which has been aged in the barrel for over 7 years.
In terms of sweetness, it has sufficient residual sugar to impart a lovely sweetness to it; however, the dry versions are less sweeter and more nuttier in flavor. Overall, this wine exhibits flavors of caramel, honey nectar, and nuances of hazelnuts. The sweetness and nuttiness are balanced beautifully by the acidity of the wine.
While commonly had in the form of a chilled aperitif, the dry style goes well with olives, hard cheese, nuts, or even with seafood. So, the next time you're looking for a white to pair with your fish, how about trying a White Port?! The sweeter version does well with lighter desserts.
If you thought the vinous world was complex enough with different wine-producing regions, countries, varietals, etc., then add port wines to the list as well. The subject about port wines is like the ocean, of which we've only dealt with the upper foam. To understand ports better, bring home bottles of different styles; taste them, enjoy their aroma, learn more about their characteristics, and delve deeper into this intriguing world of ports!