Port: A Guide to the Different Styles
Port is the name given to a range of fortified wines from Portugal. While often associated with Christmas, Port is in fact a wine that can be enjoyed all year round!
There are several different styles produced, and it can be hard to tell exactly what each one means. So here is my brief guide to help you pick what you want!
- White port - made from white grape varieties, often with some oak contact, can vary in sweetness. Fruity and nutty in taste, not designed for aging, often enjoyed as an aperitif with tonic and mint!
- Rose port - the new addition to the port category! Made by extracting less colour from the grapes of the skins, this is smooth, fruity and sweet
- Ruby port - sweet, fruity and simple, this has a dark ruby colour, black fruit and spice flavours and a fiery kick to it!
- Reserve ruby port - from better grapes and aged for slightly longer than Ruby styles, this has more intensity and flavour, smooth tannins and some chocolate or raisin flavours too
- Late Bottled Vintage - another step up in quality, this is made from the grapes from a single year, and will have the date of the harvest on the label. More body, intensity and tannnin here, expect red fruits, black fruits, spices, raisins and leather. Some are bottled ready to drink, some can benefit from further aging (look out for the terms unfiltered or crusted)
- Vintage port - the top of the range! Made from the best grapes from the best vineyards in the best years. The wines are extremely dark and tannic, bottled young in particularly thick dark glass, and should be left to mature for decades.... 20 or 30 years at least! The wines change flavour in the bottle and become more savoury wiht leather, tobacco, earthy notes, plus some dried fruit, molasses character. They well also create a lot of sediment so always decant!
- Single quinta - like a vintage port but not from a 'declared' vintage year. Often good value
- Tawny port - paler in colour, less tannin and more dried fruit flavours. Can often be served chilled! Inexpensive examples can be made by mixing red and white port together
- Reserve tawny - meets minimum aging criteria in small old oak barrels - effect of oxygen changes colour to pale tawny, softens tannins, and creates dried fruit, toffee, caramel notes. Bottled ready to drink
- Tawny port with an indication of age (10, 20, 30 or 40 years) - port is kept in cask for length of time indicated on bottle, becomes more concentration and intense over years creating a premium, complex wine. Delicious! Again can be drunk chilled, does not need aging
So while you can get different flavours and textures from the different styles you may want to pick your port depending on the food or occasion: all go great with cheese, tawny and ruby styles pair well with chocolate, white and rose can be enjoyed as aperitifs or as part of cocktails, and Vintage port is best enjoyed at the end of a meal, even just on it's own!
And whichever of the styles you enjoy, remember port is for life, not just for Christmas!