A sweet fortified Wine most often served after a meal. Grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation, stopping the process at a point where the wine has plenty of sweetness and alcohol (18 to 20 percent). Port wines originated in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal; the best ports still come from that area. The name is derived from the fact that these wines are shipped out of the Portuguese city of Oporto and, in fact, such wines are labeled "Porto," rather than "port." There are many types of port and the various labels can be confusing.
The best and most expensive are Vintage Ports, which are made from grapes of a single vintage, bottled within 2 years. The very best of these can age 50 years or more.
Late-bottled Vintage Port and Single Vintage Port
Late-bottled Vintage Ports and Single Vintage Ports are also made from grapes of a single vintage (though the grapes are not of as high a quality as those for vintage Ports). Late-bottled Vintage Ports are aged in wood for up to 6 years, while Single Vintage Ports have been wood-aged at least 7 years. Both are ready to drink when bottled and do not have the aging potential of Vintage Ports.
Tawny Ports are a blend of grapes from several different years and can be aged in wood for as long as 40 years. They're tawny in color and ready to drink when bottled.
Vintage Character Ports are essentially high-quality Ruby Ports, which are considered the lowest grade of port. They're blended from several vintages and wood-aged, but not nearly as long as Tawnies. They're the lightest and fruitiest in flavor and are ready to drink when bottled. American wineries have been bottling vintage ports since the early 1970s.
The origins of Port-the great fortified red wine-goes back to the seventeenth century trade wars between England and France. The British had developed a real affection for the wines of Bordeaux, but import bans and high taxes forced the English merchants to look elsewhere for their red wines. The "elsewhere" was Portugal. They found wines to their liking inland along the Douro River. To make sure that the wines arrived back in England in good condition, the merchants added brandy to stabilize them before shipping them.
Then in 1678 a Liverpool wine merchant sent his sons to Portugal to search out some wines. They ended up at a monastery in the mountains above the Douro where the abbot was adding brandy during fermentation-not after. The alcohol stopped the fermentation process, leaving a sweet, high-alcohol wine. And that, as legend has it, was the beginning of Port as the world has come to know it.
English merchants set up trading companies in the city of Oporto to ship the wines to England. That's one reason so many of the Port producers have English names.
The wine became known as Porto - and, to this day, that designation on the label means that the contents are authentic port.
Kind of like the rules about the name Champagne, to be called Port the wine has to come from a specific place-the Douro region of Portugal. Port-style wines are made all over the world, but they're not true Port.
The regulations governing Port's production allow eighty different grape varieties to be used. In practice, though, it really comes down to a handful. The most important ones are:
Tinta Roriz (the same as Spain’s Tempranillo)
Ports come in a head-spinning number of styles. Most of them are red and sweet. But not all. The style varies according to the quality of the base wine, how long the wine ages in wood before it's bottled, and whether the wine is from a single year or blended with wines from other years.
Port is aged in large wooden casks over a number of years. It reacts with oxygen through the surface area and through the wooden stoves. The aging process in bottles is much slower because there's almost no oxygen. Ports are either wood Ports or bottle-aged Ports - except when they're a little bit of both. Is all this becoming perfectly clear?
A Vintage Port is aged in the bottle for most of its life. It spends only two years in cask. When it's bottled at the age of two, it hasn't had a chance to shed its harsh tannins. That's left to happen in 'the bottle, which-without oxygen-is going to take a very long time. It requires at least twenty years of aging and can continue to improve for decades after that.
What really distinguishes a Vintage Port from all the others is that the grapes come from the best vineyard sites in a singularly outstanding year. And that doesn't occur every year. On average a Vintage Port will be made three years out of ten. The wines that are produced in the off years (the undeclared) years go into the other types of Port.
Vintage Port is bottled unfiltered and unfined - so, once opened, it requires decanting to remove the sediment that's accumulated. The wine should be consumed in one sitting.
Late-Bottled Vintage Port (LBV)
LBVs are probably the next best thing to Vintage Port. They're vintage dated and made from a producer's best grapes, but they come from undeclared years. LBVs spend from five to six years in cask to speed up the aging process. They’re ready to drink when they're released.
Tawnies are aged in wood for years - as long as forty- until they fade to a tawny color. They're a blend of wines from several years and are ready to drink immediately. Once opened, they can retain their vitality for a few weeks.
A Tawny Port will often be categorized by age, which appears as “10 Year Old,” "20 Year Old," "30 Year Old," and "40 Year Old" on the label. The number is really an average age because older, more complex wines are blended with younger, fruitier wines. Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports from a single year (colheita is Portuguese for "vintage").
Ruby Port is one of the least expensive Ports. It's bottled while it's still young-with only two to three years in wood. It retains its dark ruby color and has a limited shelf life. "Reserve" or "Special Reserve" indicates its been aged longer
White Port is produced just like red Port except it's made from white grapes - principally Malvasia and Donzelinho. Producers sometimes make a drier style by lengthening the fermentation period. The drier whites are typically served as an aperitif.