Port wine, typically abbreviated to port, is one of the most popular after-dinner drinks worldwide.
Today’s guide will help you discover what port is. We’ll also highlight the many different types of this sweet digestif so you can pick the right one for you. We will round out with some serving tips to help you get the most from your port.
What Is Port?
Port wine is a sweet and fortified wine that comes from Portugal.
The fortified nature of port means the alcohol content is higher than most regular wines. port contains 20% ABV (alcohol by volume) while most wines contain just 12% ABV. The elevated alcohol content means port wine is typically served in smaller glasses than wine glasses.
Port is made from various aromatic grapes. The inclusion of a distilled spirit – normally a grape-based spirt like cognac or brandy – accounts for the higher alcohol content.
For a wine to qualify as authentic port, it must hail from Portugal’s Douro Valley. Port is named for Porto, a coastal city on the Douro River. Check the label closely when buying port to make sure it’s the real deal.
Port has a distinctly sweet tasting, making it the perfect dessert wine. You can drink port either during dessert or as a digestif after your meal. Port can even be served instead of dessert – it’s a very versatile beverage.
You can find two types of port:
- Bottle-aged port: This type of port is smooth and contains few tannins.
- Barrel-aged port: A barrel-aged port will be more viscous due to the evaporation process during production. This type of port is golden in color with a taste redolent of the oak barrels it was aged in.
What Are the Main Types of Port?
There are five main types of port:
- Ruby Reserve
Ruby is an entry-level port that’s much more affordable than vintage port. Made from a blend of younger barrel-aged port, the ports used for the blend have been aged for between three and five years.
Where a vintage port is fragile and delicate and requires consuming within 48 hours of uncorking, an uncorked bottle of Ruby will last for up to a month.
If you buy the filtered version of Ruby port, you won’t need to use a wine decanter. Serve this type of port in small glasses with some cheese and fruit.
2) Ruby Reserve
Ruby Reserve port was previously known as vintage character port. This term fell out of favor in 2002, though.
An affordable port made from multiple blended vintages, Ruby Reserve comes ready to serve without needing a wine decanter.
The differentiating factor between Ruby and Ruby Reserve is the addition of higher quality port wines in the blend, wines that have been aged for up to five years.
LBV is the abbreviation for late bottle vintage port, once known as traditional port.
Late bottle vintage port is made using wine aged for between four and six years in wooden containers. LBV is available in filtered and unfiltered form.
The unfiltered variant is sometimes called crusted port. This type of port is packed with character and responds favorably to long-term aging in a wine cellar for ten years or more.
Filtered LBV port does not require cellaring. You can drink this type of port immediately.
Unlike Ruby Reserve, LBV uses port of a specific vintage. This year will be marked on the label.
You should serve this type of port using a decanter and a funnel. This is necessary due to the amount of sediment.
Tawny port begins as Ruby but is aged for an additional forty years in the barrel. Due to the prolonged time in the barrel, all the flavors of tawny port are fully rounded. The fruitiness of the wine will be reduced, and it will take on tones of caramel and chocolate.
The process involves minimal oxidation, and the end result is a port with a deep mahogany color due to the length of time it spends in the barrel.
You can find four different varieties of tawny port:
- 10-year tawny port
- 20-year tawny port
- 30-year tawny port
- 40-year tawny port
The lengthy aging times involved means that this type of port costs more. If you’re looking for a sweet spot of price and quality, we would recommend a 20-year bottle. The flavors will be pronounced, and the tannins softened.
Vintage port is the only type of port that is left to mature in its bottle. It is then cellared for 20 years. This type of port spends just two years in the barrel before it’s bottled, leading to the long cellaring times required.
Most reputable houses will not declare a vintage unless the wine of that year was exceptional, so you are guaranteed of a certain level of quality when you ease yourself into the costly world of vintage port.
Assuming you have decided which type of port makes the best fit, how should you drink this stuff?
How to Drink Port
You should never serve port at room temperature. The high ABV content means you’ll experience a burning sensation similar to that induced by whiskey if you drink port when it’s too warm.
- Serve a full-bodied port at temperatures between 60F and 66F.
- Serve a lighter port at temperatures between 55F and 60F.
You should refrigerate all types of port for around 30 minutes before serving. Then, either decant the bottle or pour directly into the glass, depending on the type of port. Allow the wine to warm and breathe for at least 10 minutes before serving.
You can use port in one of three different ways:
- Drink it straight
- Make cocktails using port
- Use port for cooking
1) Drink neat port
If you want to drink port straight, serve it in a traditional port glass.
While this is recognized as the most sophisticated method of drinking port wine, not all types of port respond favorably to drinking straight.
To appreciate neat port at its best, opt for either LBV, tawny, or vintage port.
2) Make cocktails using Port
Ruby and tawny ports can form the backbone of tasty cocktails.
3) Use port for cooking
Port is a great cooking ingredient. Port wine reduction sauces are ideal on meats like steak. You could also use the sauce to top cakes and ice cream.
All types of port work well in the kitchen. Ruby port will offer the longest lifespan.
We very much hope today’s guide to port has given you an insight into the various type of this alluring beverage and how to get the most from drinking it or using it for sauces in the kitchen.
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