Not just for your granny, port is back in vogue. Derek Colsell of Lanchester Wines offers a guide to one of the world’s finest wines
Port – or vinho do Porto – is arguably the greatest fortified wine in the world, its paramount expression, Vintage Port, ranking alongside the finest produce of Bordeaux or Burgundy. Multiple grape varieties lend it flavours of berry, chocolate, fig, or cinnamon, while its colour reflects each type’s name.
The world’s most popular port, ruby port is rich, dark plum in colour, fruity and vibrant, and made to be enjoyed young. Its aromas and flavours are typically of red fruit, chocolate and spice; served at around 15C, it is a perfect partner to rich fruitcake, dark ginger cakes, sticky toffee pudding and dark chocolate.
Within the Ruby category are Vintage Port and LBV (Late Bottle Vintage), which present a selection of very fine full-bodied red ports from a single year. Vintage Port is kept in wood for only 20 months or so before being transferred to the bottle where it will continue to age. Meanwhile, Late Bottled Vintage, as the name suggests, is bottled later, remaining in wood from four to six years, during which time it matures and settles down. It is ready to drink when bottled, does not need to be decanted and can be served by the glass for several weeks after the cork is drawn.
Tawny Port starts out as Ruby Port, but spends 10 to 40 years in the barrel, rounding out its flavours, oxidising slightly and taking on a mahogany hue from the wood.
There are only four ages a Tawny Port can bear: 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Tawny Ports are sweet or medium dry and typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, though their rich, complex flavours can also pair with a main course.
A step up from the standard Tawny is the Colheita – a single-vintage Tawny Port aged for at least seven years, with the vintage year on the bottle (instead of the years spent in the bottle, as per the Tawny). Colheita Port should not be confused with Vintage Port: a Vintage Port will spend only about 18 months in barrels and will continue to mature in the bottle, but a Colheita may have spent 20 or more years in wooden barrels before being bottled and sold. White Colheitas have also been produced.
White Port is made from white grapes indigenous to Portugal. Those of greater age are best served chilled on their own, while dry white ports with delicious flavours of citrus zest, apricot, tangerine and ginger make an excellent base for cocktails. Sweet White Port and tonic water is common in the Porto region as an aperitif, traditionally served with salted almonds. There is, unofficially, a fourth colour of port – Rosé. Technically a Ruby Port, Rosés are fermented in a similar manner to a rosé wine, with limited exposure to the grape skins, thus creating the rose colour. Ranges are still fairly limited, but we have a fantastic Rosé Port from Vista Alegre with flavours of raspberry and floral notes. It’s best served slightly chilled as an aperitif, with dessert, or over ice as a party starter.