While you may see Port wines for sale at your local grocery store from Portugal, California, the Pacific Northwest and even New York City, all ‘True’ Port comes from northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley centered around the town of Oporto which is where it gets it’s name.
Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum and comes in a variety of styles ranging from youthful Ruby Port to aged Tawnies; and Late-Bottled Vintage Ports down to the distinguished noble Vintage Port which are commonly enjoyed as or with dessert.
First a little history: Port wine, though typically associated with Portugal, really owes at least part of its invention to England as a direct by-product of the Brits battling France through the 17th and 18th centuries.
Essentially, the English boycotted French wine in the late 17th century as a result of continuous conflict and began sourcing their red wine from Portugal, just around the bend from Bordeaux. They began adding a wee bit of brandy to the still wine to help sustain it during the voyage back to England and making the wine sweeter and of a higher alcohol level.
Oak-Aged Ports: Almost all port is bottled after it ages in wood casks, after which it’s filtered, bottled, and ready to drink right off the shelf. Because the wood-aging process gently exposes the wine to air, wood-aged ports tend to have a relatively long shelf life after being opened – two weeks or more.
Ruby Port: This is where most of us start when it comes to port. Aged for three years, it’s simple, smooth, good with dark chocolate, and full of grape and sweet plum flavors and aromas. Think of it as the best cough medicine you have ever tasted.
Tawny Port: Also aged for three years, this type of port is named after its caramel color, which comes from shorter skin contact during fermentation. These ports are nutty, mellow, rich, and ‘Tawny’ in color. Think butterscotch.
Aged Tawny: These come in increasing average ages (10, 20, 30, and 40 years), the oldest being the rarest and most expensive. As they age longer in casks, tawny ports have drier fruit flavors, are nuttier, more sherry-like, more complex, and feature fig, rum, and spice aromas. They are more deeply concentrated.
Late-Bottled Vintage: While it carries a vintage date, it’s not technically a vintage port; it’s kind of a vintage port with training wheels. These ports are aged four to six years, and can then age a bit longer in bottle to become softer and more complex, with wood spice aromas and dark plum flavors.
Bottle-Aged Ports: Bottle Aged ports (or Vintage Ports) are the most celebrated of all Ports. They are bottled two years after the vintage, bottled unfiltered and a good rule is that they should be twenty years old to be at their best. They gain complexity over many, many years in the bottle. In a good vintage, they can be cellared for forty+ years.
When enjoying port, try matching it up with different foods, and contrast elements where you can. For example, the mellow flavors of tawny port work well with stronger, creamier foods like milk chocolate, caramel, and softer cheeses. Ruby port has a great contrast when paired with bitter, dark chocolate, and helps to tame the stronger flavors of aged and blue cheeses.
Dr. Vino (Rory Olson) is the proprietor of Portland Wine Merchant located at 1430 SE 35th just off Hawthorne Blvd.