Port is a fortified wine produced in the steep hills along the Douro River in northern Portugal. The number of styles is continually changing, but here are the main categories and an overview of how port is made.
Port winemaking: Of the more than 100 grape varieties authorized in the region five red varieties predominate: Touriga National, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cao. For white port the main grapes are Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, and Viosinho. Traditionally, grapes were trod by foot in long, stone legares to maximize extraction of tannins and color. Today some producers use robotic legares, while those in outlying regions use autovinifiers. After two or three days, fermentation is halted by the addition of grape spirit, and the sweet wine begins its aging process. Ports fall into two broad categories for aging: those matured in bottle and those in barrel.
Ruby: Ruby port is the simplest style made and usually the least expensive. The wines are a blend of vintages that are aged in barrels for 2 to 3 years and filtered before bottling. These are full bodied with fresh, ripe fruit flavors and meant to be drunk young. They won’t improve with age.
Crusted Ruby: These are ruby ports that have not been filtered and therefore will evolve somewhat while in the bottle. As there is often heavy sediment it’s important to decant.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): Unlike ruby ports the grapes are from one particular year and are aged in barrel for 4 to 6 years. Some LBVS are filtered before bottling, while others are not, allowing for further maturation in bottle. The longer aging results in softer tannins and mellower, more complex fruit flavors.
Vintage: The pinnacle of all ports and the most expensive, vintage ports are made only in the best (declared) years, using only the top quality grapes. After two years in barrel the wines are bottled unfiltered and can take decades to mature.They should be decanted before serving as they can throw a heavy sediment.
Tawny: In theory, tawny ports indicate a wine that has aged in barrel for so long that its bright ruby red color has faded to, as the name gives away, tawny. In reality these are wines that have been spent as long in barrel as a ruby port, but are made with either underripe fruit or white grapes to give it a lighter color. The price is the giveaway as these will be as inexpensive as a ruby.
Tawny with an indication of age: A true tawny port that has spent decades in barrel is an exquisite treat. Through slow, controlled oxidation the wine’s original fresh fruit flavors are transformed into scents of dried fruits, caramel and walnut. The tannins become soft and silky, and the longer the wine ages the darker and more amber the color. The indication of age (10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years) will be on the label. The number of years on the bottle is an average of the number of years the wine spends in barrel. As you can imagine a significant amount of wine evaporates over the years, making the older wines very expensive.
Colheita: Colheita means harvest, and these are tawny ports made from grapes from a single vintage. These wines must spend at least 7 years (often longer) aged in wood and should be drunk within a year of bottleing (this date will appear on the label).
Single Quinta: These are ports made from grapes grown in a single vineyard. Stylewise they resemble vintage ports in that they are aged in wood for 2 to 3 years before being bottled unfiltered.They are not made every year, however. In outstanding years where a vintage will be declared, these wines will go toward the vintage port. It’s only in undeclared years when these wines will be made.
White Port: White port is made the same way as red except for shorter maceration. Styles range from dry to sweet, with some aged in oak and others not. White port is often used in cocktails.
Rose Port: Rose port is a recent invention by Croft and is made with red grapes and shorter maceration time, similar to how rose wine is made.