What’s What In The World Of Port?

Port is a point of confusion for many. With a whole host of different varieties and flavour profiles it can be a lot to take in.

In this week’s blog we’re going to delve into the world of Port and try and make sense of it all. Strap in, it’s a long one.

Porto, Portugal old city skyline from across the Douro River.

What is Port?

Port is a fortified Portuguese wine, made by cutting the fermentation process short by adding grape brandy. This gives the wine it’s signiature alcohol content while maintaining a sweet flavour profile.

Surprisingly enough Port wasn’t invented by the Portuguese. It was invented by British Merchants in the 18th century to make a wine that would survive long sea voyages.

Despite being centred around such a small area (the river Douro in Northern Portugal) port can vary widely. Around 80 different grape varieties are permitted in the making of port, with 29 recommended varietals.

How is it made?

Port starts out the same as any other wine, with the grapes. They are picked and pressed to extract the juice.

Here is where things start to get a bit different. In winemaking the juice is left to sit with the solid matter (pips, skins, stalks etc) floating to the top of the vat and forming a cap.

This is also the case with port but the cap is agitated much more vigorously to get as much colour and tannin as possible in the space of 24-36 hours. Some producers will use an autovinifier to constantly circulate the juice for the most skin contact.

At this point the yeast is added to allow the initial wine to ferment up to anywhere between 6% and 9% ABV before grape brandy is added. This is a 77% ABV spirit which kills the yeast, increases the alcohol level and maintains the sweetness.

The wine is then stored until the following spring, when it is transferred to a village down the river called Vila Nova da Gaia. The town’s milder, damper climate is better suited to the maturation of Port.

What do the different styles mean?

This is often where the confusion lies with Port. Which style will I like?

We’ve broken down the different styles for you, with a bit of background about what makes each of them special.

Ruby

This is the entry level port style. Ruby Port is a great starting point for people trying port for the first time.

Filtered and bottled young and ready to drink, they are full of fruit flavour and deeply coloured. They’re usually pretty inexpensive and sold young.

Reserve Ruby Port are matured in casks for anywhere up to five years before they are bottled. Like ruby ports these are filtered, but the fruit, tannin and alcohol are all better integrated as a result of ageing.

Vila Nova de Gaia.

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV)

Traditional ‘Bottle Matured’ Late Bottle Vintage, or LBV, ports are unfiltered. This is what set them apart from Reserve Ruby Ports.

The port is aged for between 4 and 6 years before bottling. It is then sealed with a traditional ‘driven’ cork rather than a stopper.

This means that LBV Ports can benefit from bottle aging. Their flavours are richer and more complex than Reserve Ruby Ports and have the tannic ‘grip’ that red wine drinkers are more familiar with.

Modern LBV styles, however, are more common and are fined and filtered before bottling.

Tawny

Just like Ruby ports are a deep…well…ruby colour, tawny ports are paler and a kind of tawny brown. Funny that.

Basic tawny ports are aged for the same time as a ruby port but the wine used is different. The wine for Tawny ports are lighter coloured, with less colour and tannin extraction, and are often blended with white port to get the colour right.

Reserve Tawny Port, however requires a minimum of 7 years in oak. They are much more complex than ruby ports while remaining soft and smooth.

Fun fact: If you want to put an age statement on a tawny port it has to be either ’10’, ’20’, ’30’ or ‘over 40’

Colheita ports are quite rare. They are basically a hybrid of vintage port and tawny port, single vintage ports aged in wood for a minimum of 8 years.

Vintage

Vintage ports aren’t aged in wood for as long as you might think, just 18-36 months. Bottle ageing is where the character of vintage ports comes from.

They are bottled unfiltered and often take up to 20 years of ageing to be at their best. Because they’re unfiltered, decanting is a must.

Don’t get us wrong, when they’re young these wines can be delighhtful. Bold and fruity and really rich, but these flavours take a back seat to caramel and nuts as the wine ages.

Single Quinta Vintage Ports are the products of a single estate. These are often the producer’s best vineyard.

How does white port work?

Put simply, white port is made using white grapes. They aren’t necessarily as sweet as red ports, and will range from sweet to off-dry depending on the wine.

These ports are usually sold younger than their red counterparts. Their honey and nut flavours are a result of the oxygen contact in the maturation process.

Where does pink port come into this?

Pink port, like rosé wine, is a lighter style of the red equivelant. In this case, rosé port is kind of a light ruby port.

With flavours of strawberries, cherry, raspberry and honey it is still sweet and boozy, but more approachable for summer.

Hopefully our blog this week has helped you understand a bit more about the world of port. All through November too we’ve got a tasty discount on our entire range.

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