The Styles of Port
Port can be a complicated subject to even the most educated wine lover. There is a vast array of styles, houses and grapes. The Douro Valley DOC is permitted to grow over 30 different grape varieties in the production of port however in reality 5 or 6 are more common. Each house makes a variety of styles ranging from white to ruby, tawny to vintage but what does this actually mean?
White port is, of course, made from a blend of white grapes. The usual varieties include; Malvasia, Rabigato and Viosinho. Each brings a different character. For example Malvasia brings smoky and nutty flavours that are intense whilst remaining elegant. The quality and ageing of white ports can be drastically different. Some are released young, remaining fresh and fruity. This style suits cocktails for example with tonic water and a lemon wedge. Others are far more complex, full of honey, dried fruit characters and these are certainly best enjoyed chilled as an aperitif.
This is a relatively recent invention made to connect with younger generations who were struggling with the traditional ‘heaviness’ of port. Best enjoyed in cocktails or as a chilled aperitif.
This is a classic style. Ruby port is consumed more than any other style in Britain. The name is derived from the colour of the wine. It's packed full of ripe, red and black fruits. The better examples can have deeper complexity however this is a wine to be enjoyed whilst it is young - it isn’t designed to age.
This sits on the back of ruby port. It is in fact a British invention and bottled with its sediment, in a similar way to vintage port. The year that appears on the bottle is the year the wine was bottled rather than harvested due to crusted port being made from a blend of years. These can age well and for the quality are exceptionally affordable.
Regarded as the best of the best. These bottles are only created in the very best years. The weather conditions are perfect, with adequate rainfall, sunshine and ripening times. The fortified wines are stored in small barrels for two years before a vintage is declared and then bottled. The wine continues ageing in the bottle often for over 30 years where it develops rich, dried fruit flavours as well as leather or leaf notes. This is the most expensive style of port due to its ageing ability, complexity and balance.
Late bottled Vintage (LBV)
This style also has a declared year from when the grapes were harvested. The wine is fortified and then kept in small barrels for up to six years before bottling. Due to spending longer periods of time in oak barrels than vintage port, they can be enjoyed younger whilst still retaining complexity and a balance of flavour.
Single Quinta Vintage
Similar to vintage ports these wines are extremely complex and have the ability to age in bottle. They are also made in the same way. The difference is that these wines comes from a single vineyard, one with exceptional quality and are made in a year that has not been declared a vintage year.
Tawny- 10,20,30,40 years.
Unlike ruby ports, tawny ports are aged in large oak barrels and the wine is in constant contact with oxygen. Oxidation occurs changing the colour from ruby to tawny. This style of ageing creates nutty flavours with less of a focus on the primary fruits. The age quoted on the label is an average age due to blending. This creates greater complexity within the wine and a great balance of flavours.
This is a vintage tawny port. This means that the grapes were harvested in a single year but have been stored in wooden barrels for a minimum of seven years. In practice the maturation time is far longer sometimes reaching 50 years. The producer decides to bottle when they feel the port is at its best and no further ageing would be beneficial.