Wine Words: Port

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Port is a wine word. Like Sherry it is often misunderstood. While Port is a style of fortified wine, it is not a generic word for the style. Port is the name of the liqueur or fortified wines produced in a specific delimited area of the Douro Valley, Portugal, up river from the city of Oporto. 


Port – a Sweet Fortified Wine

Port is a fortified wine, meaning that a spirit alcohol is added to increase the alcohol level. In the case of Port, the spirit is added during fermentation, when the must (grape juice) has reached about 5-6% abv. Port is fortified to about 20% abv. Because the fortification happens during fermentation Port wines are naturally sweet, as all the sugar in the must have not been converted to alcohol. Most Port wines contain circa 110-120g/l residual sugar.

The Grapes

While Port can be a white wine (or even pink!), most Port wine is red and is made from a blend of local varieties. The five most important varieties are:

  • Touriga Nacional
  • Touriga Francesa
  • Tinta Roriz
  • Tinta Barroca
  • Tinta Cão

For white port the main grapes are Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Codega and Viosinho

Port Styles

The principal way of classifying Port is based on how the wine was aged.  The two main categories are called Ruby and Tawny.

Ruby Port - Sometimes called bottle-matured Port, these wines are bottled early to preserve their deep, vibrant color and fruit flavors. Examples of Ruby style Ports are:

  • Ruby
  • Ruby Reserve
  • LBV (Late Bottled Vintage)
  • Single Quinta Vintage – from a single estate.
  • Vintage Port – only made in the best years.

The best of these Port styles (namely vintage and single vintage Quinta) need to be laid down to slowly mature in bottle before drinking. Both throw a sediment and need to be decanted before drinking.

Tawny - As the name suggests Tawny Ports are tawny in color and matured oxidatively in cask before being bottled. The casks are called Pipes that hold 600 liters. Tawny Ports are bottled when they are ready to drink. The tawny color will vary depending on the number of years aged in cask. Because of the cask ageing Tawny Ports do not throw a sediment, and therefore do not need decanting. Examples of Tawny style ports are:

  • Tawny (commercial)
  • Tawny Reserve
  • Tawny with an indication of age such as 10, 20, 30 or 40 year old.
  • Colheitas - a vintage dated tawny Port.

Area of Production

The demarcated area for Port production is one of the oldest in the world dating back to 1757. It covers an area of 617,000 acres of which 96,000 of which are vineyards. The region is divided into three sub-regions, namely:

  • Baixa Corgo or lower Douro – the most planted sub-region.
  • Cima Corgo – considered the best vineyards, from where most of the top quality ports come.
  • Douro Superior (newer and larger vineyards) – the most remote part.

(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga/Shutterstock)

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