Facts about port

More than 300 years of experience and tradition have made port one of the most famous and appreciated wines in the world - with good reason. Generally, port is full-bodied, powerful and delicate. Port is fortified wine grown in the demarcated Douro region in the northern part of Portugal. The grapes for the ports are crushed by foot in big granite lagars. Foot treading is known as a festive highlight after the harvest in September.

There are many different types of port. They are all produced by adding neutral and clear Brandy Aguardente (also called distilled grape spirit) to stop fermentation of the wine. In this way the must retains some of the grapes’ natural sugar contents, and the wine becomes naturally sweet.
The alcohol percentage rises and typically ends at around 20%. As totally young all port is dark (except for White Port), full-bodied and aromatic, but by age it develops into very different types of ports depending on the way and period of time the port is aged.

Port stands out from ordinary wines due to its unique characteristics: an enormous variety of types that surprise with wealth and intensity of their incomparable aromas, a highly persistent aroma and flavour, a high alcohol content, a vaste range of degrees of sweetness and an assortment of colours.

The different types of red port vary in colour from deep purple to light gold, with a range of intermediary hues (tawny, golden tawny, golden and light gold). White port comes in various shades (pale yellow, straw and golden white), all intimately related to the winemaking technique used. When aged in cask for many years, white wines acquire, through a natural oxidation, a golden hue that is very similar to that of a very old tawny wine.

In terms of sweetness, port can be very sweet, sweet, semi dry or extra dry. Just how sweet a wine will be is a choice made during production; it depends on when the clear Brandy Aguardente (distilled grape spirit) is added to stop the fermentation of the wine.

It is the so-called “5 noble grapes” which are used the most for production of port, namely Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. The most common grape for white ports is Malvasia.

There are two main styles of port, called Ruby style (simplified it is the red bottle aged port) and Tawny style (simplified it is the brown oak aged port). Whether a port is Ruby or Tawny style is determined by the way the port is aged. In addition we have white ports (and rosé).

Ruby style
Wines in which the winemaker looks to restrain the evolution of their deep red colour and maintain the fruit and strength of the young wine. This is the style you will find in the following types (mentioned in ascending order of quality): Ruby, Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and Vintage. The finest types - especially Vintage, followed by (unfiltered) LBV - are good for storing as they age well in the bottle.

Tawny style
Ports obtained from lots of different wines that have aged for different lengths of time in casks or in vats. With age, the colour of the wines slowly develops into tawny, medium tawny or light tawny, with a bouquet of dried fruits and wood; the older the wine, the stronger these aromas. This is the style you will find in the following types: Tawny, Tawny Reserve, Tawny with indication of age (10, 20, 30 and 40 years old) and Colheita. These are blends of wines from several years - except for Colheitas, which are wines of a single year that are similar to an aged Tawny of the same age. These wines are ready to drink when they are bottled.

Here is a list of the most widespread types of port.

White Port

  • White Port is made from white grapes and might vary from semi dry to dry. 2-3 years of oak ageing in big casks.
  • A few port houses also make white ports with age, for instance 10, 20 or 30 years old.
  • Preferably served chilled, directly from the refrigerator. Suitable as aperitif or as ingredient in the long drink Portonic.
  • Portonic recipe: Blend 1 part white port with 2 parts tonic in a glass with ice cubes. Decorate with slices of lemon or lime.

Lágrima

  • Lágrima is a sweet white port, which is not that widespread.
  • The port has lots of sweetness, medium body and nuances of exotic fruits.
  • Preferably served chilled, directly from the refrigerator. Suitable as aperitif or for desserts with fruit.

Ruby

  • Ruby is a blend of young and spicy ports, bottled after approximately 2-3 years of oak ageing in big casks.
  • It has a dark ruby red colour and full-bodied and fruity aroma and taste.
  • Ruby is ready to be enjoyed when bottled.
  • Preferably served chilled, but not directly from the refrigerator. Take out the bottle a little while before serving, so that the port is around 12 degrees.
  • Suitable for tasteful desserts, strong cheeses or on its own.

Tawny

  • The English word Tawny means brownish and refers to the colour this port gets when it is aged in casks for a longer period of time.
  • This port is ready to be enjoyed when bottled after 2-3 years of oak ageing.
  • Classic Tawny is a blend of ports from different vintages and it is suitable as aperitif and for chocolate, fruit and ice desserts.

Tawny with age

  • This Tawny is marked with its age on the label; 10 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old or Over 40 years old.
  • It is bottled when ready to drink. It is the favourite port of the Portuguese people.
  • Tawny with age is a blend of port from different vintages, which has been aged for a longer period of time in small oak casks. The composition of the blend has a minimum average of the age indicated. Before release of the port, the Port Institute (IVDP) has to approve that the port is characteristic with what is expected for the age indicated.
  • The oak ageing has given the port the leather brown colour and a smoothly rounded character with a lovely nutty taste.
  • Preferably served slightly chilled (i.e. approx. 20 minutes in the refrigerator). Suitable for desserts, nut cakes etc.

Colheita

  • Colheita means harvest and thereby only from a single vintage year. This is a Tawny with notification of vintage and can be considered as a Single Harvest Tawny.
  • Preferably served slightly chilled - approx. 20 degrees (i.e. approx. 20 minutes in the refrigerator).
  • Colheita has to be aged in small oak casks for minimum 7 years, but it is typically aged longer than that - some up to 70 years. Once bottled
    it will not develop anymore. Colheita is suitable for strong cheeses, chocolate and desserts.

Late bottled Vintage

  • Late Bottled Vintage is port from an extraordinary harvest/vintage, bottled after 4-6 years of wood ageing. As the name indicates this is a Vintage-style Port which is bottled late - and the extra wood ageing makes the Late Bottled Vintage Port more soft and accessible (ready to drink) right after bottling compared to a Vintage Port right after bottling.
  • Aged in big wood casks. An unfiltered LBV, which is the abbreviation, has many years of ageing potential.
  • Preferably served chilled, but not directly from the refrigerator. Take out the bottle a little while before serving, so that the port is around 12 degrees.
  • LBV is suitable for chocolate desserts, cheeses or on its own.

Vintage Port

  • Vintage Port is a distinguished port from a specific year, only produced in years with extraordinary harvest.
  • Many people consider Vintage Port as the very best within ports. Vintage Port is the type of port with the best ageing potential. It is bottled after 2-3 years of ageing in big oak casks. Vintage Port continues to develop in the bottle and it is most often just getting better and better as the years go by. Unopened it can be kept for decades.
  • The cork in an old Vintage Port, which might have been stored for 15 years or more, can be very stuck or very crumbling and thereby difficult to remove. Therefore, many people recommend to break the neck of the bottle with a heated port tong. The port tong is heated in a hot fire and afterwards the bottle neck breaks cleanly. Watch video.
How to open a Vintage Port with a port tong
  • Of course, a bottle can also be opened using a cork screw. If the cork breaks, which it will often do when opening old ports, no harm is done. Just carefully press the rest of the cork down in the bottle and then decant the wine to gather both deposit and possible bits of broken cork.
  • Decanting is always recommended after opening this type of port due to its natural deposit caused by the fact that Vintage Port is unfiltered and develops in the bottle. As Vintage Port (and some Late Bottled Vintage) is unfiltered, the deposit is a part of the wine and contributes to the process of maturing. Deposit is not at all injurious as it is just small bits of the grapes, but it is certainly not pleasant in the mouth.
  • Decanting is to pour the wine from the bottle into a decanter, and decanting a port has two purposes; to remove possible deposit and to oxidize the wine and thereby open up for the aromas.
  • To decant a port you can use a decanter and a tea filter (and some patience) if you don’t have a funnel for decanting. The tea filter is placed in the mouth of the decanter and the port is calmly poured into the decanter.
  • Decanting should not be done too long before serving as the port might lose too much of its fruit.
  • A bottle of Vintage Port ought to be enjoyed within 24 hours after opening, younger Vintage Ports within 48 hours. The reason for this is that a Vintage Port compared to other port types will rather quickly lose its fruit.
  • While young a Vintage Port is characterized by being very powerful and fruity with lots of tannins. As years go by it becomes more soft and round. The colour will change from being very dark as young Vintage Port to becoming lighter as years go by. Actually, an old Vintage Port can become totally light.
  • Preferably served chilled, but not directly from the refrigerator. Take out the bottle a little while before serving, so that the port is around 12 degrees.
  • Vintage Port is suitable for nuts, cakes, tasteful cheeses or on its own. As young and powerful it is also perfect for a good pepper steak.
  • Ports can have the mention “Reserve” on the label if they fulfil the criteria of the Port Institute (IVDP).
  • All ports should be approved by the Port Institute (IVDP) before being bottled and sold as port. The approval is made following a very carefully defined legislation regarding ageing, bottling, time of approval, which type of port the specific port is categorized in etc. For this Port Chrismas Calendar it is the first time ever Vintage Port has been approved to be bottled in small bottles. Of course, all labels and contents for this Port Christmas Calendar are tested and approved by the Port Institute. All port bottles in normal size have a seal of guarentee as banderole over the capsule or a special stamp printed as part of the back label issued by the Port Institute. The small 5 cl bottles in this Port Christmas Calendar are provided with capsules of guarentee - also issued by the Port Institute.
  • If you don’t have “real” port glasses, port should be served in big wine glasses - preferably white wine glasses to be able to enjoy the many aromas of the port.
  • As the Portuguese people say: “Port should be enjoyed in big mouthfuls from big glasses.”
    The “real” port glass is architect-designed and carefully designed so that you can whirl the port around in the glass obtaining the maximum joy of the port.
  • The port glass has a characteristic four-sided stem with a special hollow for the thumb. The hollow is there to get you to grasp the glass in the same way every time and thereby make you drink from the same spot every time. In that way you avoid rims all the way around the glass. The glass is very solid but still elegant. The port glass is designed by the famous Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira.
  • When it comes to serving temperature, in general terms you can say it is better to serv a port too cold than too warm.
  • Port can also be used for cooking purposes, for instance in sauces, stews etc.

Port glass