Port is a both a wine and a wine style. Both the wine and the style come from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The fortified wines produced in this region are called Port and the style of these wines has been replicated all around the world – in particular Australia and South Africa.
As with the wines of Sherry and Madeira, fortified wines start with a wine which is then fortified to bring up the alcohol content. Port is different from Sherry as it doesn’t complete its fermentation of the base wine but rather is fortified with a neutral spirit half way through. This means that the resulting Ports will have high levels of residual (un-fermented) sugar. The wines of Sherry are typically dry as they finish their fermentation before fortification. Port wines are fortified up to a level of around 19-21% alcohol content and all retain a high level of sugar.
Port is made into two main styles: Ruby and Tawny Ports, both of which will use red wine grapes for the base wine. White port is also produced on a much smaller quantity that uses white grapes. Tawny Ports start off the same as a Ruby but are aged with a gap in the barrels, which allows for more oxidation to the wines – this discolours the ruby colour into a tawny one, as well as introducing an array of flavours that give Tawny Ports their unique character.
Ruby Port Styles
Ruby and Reserve Ruby Port
Ruby Port is one of the produced Port style as it is easy to make, compared to the others. These are deep coloured Ports that have fresh, red fruit flavours. At their very best they will have a silky texture and have flavours of coffee beans, nutmeg and milk chocolate. Reserve Ruby Ports are an off-shoot of this category and are made in the exact same style just have to be aged for up to five years before bottling whereas the basic Ruby Ports can be sold after a year of maturation.
Late Bottled Vintage and Vintage Ports
Basic Ruby, Tawny and White Ports don’t hold a year on their labels as they are a blend of many years to extend their average age. Every year is given careful scrutiny over whether is good enough to be a ‘Vintage year’. In order to be good enough the grapes must have reached a certain degree of ripeness that will ensure enough acidity, colour and sugars are in the grapes resulting in wines that will be able to be aged for decades on end – these are then made into ‘Vintage Ports’. Late Bottle Vintage Ports are made from those grapes that were destined to be Vintage Ports but the year wasn’t declared – so still very good quality grapes just not up to the very high standards that a declared Vintage Port-grapes must meet. The resulting wines will have dark fruit flavours with more immediate baking spice, coffee, leather and licorice flavours than a Ruby Port will have as well as being significantly richer.
Vintage Ports are dark ruby or black in colour. When young (in their first ten years of life) they have dark, jammed and candied fruit flavours as well as a range of black and purple floral flavours. As they start to mature, after the ten year bracket, they really start to come into their own, developing dried fruit, savoury and biscuity flavours as well as the primary fruits of candied and jammed black and red fruits. The best Vintage Ports have been known to drink perfectly after 200+ years.
Tawny Port Styles
Tawny and Reserve Tawny Ports
Tawny Ports are Ruby Ports that have been oxidatively aged. This ageing process gives a brown colour and flavours of dried fruits, baking spices and chocolate – where Ruby Ports only have primary red or black fruit flavours with no oak flavours introduced at all. Basic Tawny Ports will have flavours of raisins, dried currants, red plum jam and baking spices. Reserve Tawny Ports, Tawny Ports that have to be aged for at least seven years in oak before bottling, will have more complex oak flavours of vanilla, coffee and nutty flavours.
10, 20, 30 and 40 year old Tawny Ports
These are often the styles of Ports that consumers think of when they think of a classic Port wine. They are Tawny Ports that have been aged for significantly longer than either Tawny or Reserve Tawny Ports in an oxidative manner. This allows for a much more complex aroma profile consisting of caramelised nuts, brown sugar, toffee, coffee, chocolate, dried red and black fruits and baking spices. 10, 20, 30 and 40 years are all very long times for wines to be sitting around in barrel – this has lead to confusion over time on how long barrels have been sitting around the winery. For ease these time periods are all average ages – meaning that a 20 year old Tawny port (though the base of it will be close to 20 years old) it can be made up of some 10 year old and 30 year old Ports to create the average. 40 year old Tawny Ports will often have 50+ year old Tawny Ports added in to the blend.
Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports that have been made in a specific vintage – so the tawny equivalent of a Vintage Port, that has been made in a ruby style. Colheita Ports must have been aged for at least eight year in oak and have the vintage they were picked in as well as the vintage they are bottled in on their label.