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A Quick Primer on Port and Port Accessories

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 2:09:16 PM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

After Bordeaux, Port may be the most famous wine in the world. Everyone’s heard of it and millions have enjoyed it. But how much do you really know about Port?

Port SipperHere’s a quick rundown of the ins and outs of this popular sweet sensation. Yes, Port is a sweet wine and the real thing comes from Portugal, although so-called “Port” is made in many regions around the world. Port is a fortified wine, because to make it, alcohol (brandy) is added to the fermenting vats. This interrupts the fermentation because the high alcohol level kills off the yeasts. Thus, a high quantity of grape sugar remains in the wine. There are several types of Port, each with its own distinct character and proper method of handling.

Vintage PortsVivid Decanter
The best ports are Vintage Ports. These are the Ports that collectors desire. Port, like Champagne, only declares a vintage in the best years. This ensures that Vintage Ports are always very high quality. A Vintage Port is aged two years is cask and then bottled unfiltered. Of all the great wines produced, Vintage Port may be the one that requires the longest cellar aging. Generally, 10-20 years minimum aging is recommended. After just a few years of bottle age it will start to throw off a great quantity of sediment, so it must be carefully decanted before drinking. Use a wide decanter for breathing purposes, such as the Vivid, and you can also use a funnel with a screen. Mature vintage Port is sweet, lively and complex.

Reserve Tawny Ports
The next best ports are Reserve Tawny Ports, often just referred to as “Reserve” and then a number of years; 5, 10, 20… These ports are aged in cask for the number of years on the label and then bottled. Hence, they are fully mature and ready to drink when purchased. The Port is racked off the lees when it’s bottled, so there is no sediment and these wines do not need decanting. Because they are cask aged for so long, Reserve Ports have a tawny color and a different character that Vintage port, often with a distinct nuttiness. Once opened however, these wines are delicate, so it’s a good idea to use a preservative like Private Preserve or VacuVin to keep the wine as fresh as possible. Cohelita Ports are similar to Reserve Ports but are from a single vintage. They should be handled the same way.

Riedel DominusVintage Character or Late Bottled Vintage Ports
What used to be called Ruby Ports are now mostly referred to as Vintage Character or Late Bottled Vintage Ports. These simplest of Ports are made from the off-year grapes either singly or blended. They are deep in color, sweet and fresh. Like Reserve ports they are not intended to age further and do not carry sediment. For elegant service you may pour one of these ports into a lead-free stoppered decanter like our Riedel Dominus and then keep it with a shot of Private Preserve until you’re ready to serve it again.

Riedel PortPort Glassware
When you’re ready to serve Port, be sure you have the appropriate stemware so that the bold aromas can be fully expressed. A Port glass has a narrower bowl so that the nose is concentrated. You’ll likely experience black currant, pepper, truffles and smoky notes that you won’t want to miss! The Riedel Sommeliers Vintage Port glass is ideal, or try some fantastic Port Sippers (see above) for parties.

What is your favorite type of Port and how do you serve it? Leave us a comment, and let us know!

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4 Responses to “A Quick Primer on Port and Port Accessories”

  1. And ideally store at 55 degrees before/after opened until gone, like a good red – correct?

  2. Absolutely right Brian. And don’t wait too long to finish the bottle. In spite of the higher alcohol and the sugar, Port does tend to show the affects of oxidation after a week or so.

  3. You missed out

    White Port – Usually drunk chilled, as an aperitif
    Colheita – A Single harvest Tawny Port – Will have an year on it, as opposed to age (10, 20, 30 years etc). Tawny port is actually a blend of a number of years to produce an “average”, hence the age.

    Also, depending on the type of port, determines how quickly it should be consumed after opening.

    Vintage should be consumed within 24-48 hours of opening.
    Colheita within a week
    Tawny within 2-4 weeks
    LBV or Ruby – 3-6 weeks
    White – varies, but usually 2-6 weeks

    These are general guidelines though.

  4. Robert,

    Thank you for adding some good information.

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