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Allow me to introduce you to what is perhaps the best known fortified wine in the world.
Port is a sweet red wine from Portugal; specifically it is from the Douro Valley in the Northern provinces. Over a hundred grape varieties may be used in the production of port, although five are the most important: Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Nacional.
The wine itself starts its journey like most other wines. Grapes are grown, harvested, and wine is produced. At this point things get fun. During the fermentation process, a neutral grape spirit known as aguardante is added to the wine in order to stop fermentation and leave residual sugar. This stabilizes the wine for long term again, and is why it is referred to as fortified. The spirit has 77% alcohol, and it boosts the wine’s overall alcohol content to 19-23%.
Port needs time to develop after the spirit is added, and all port wines must, by law, be aged for a minimum of two years before release.
Let’s review the major styles…
Ruby Port: The most widely produced style. It is simple, fruity, but does not improve with age.
Tawny Port: This style of port is aged in wood barrels which exposes them to slow oxidization, and imparts nutty flavours to the wine. The official categories of age that you see on a bottle are 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. If there is no age listed on the bottle, it is a basic blend aged only for a few years.
Vintage Port: The absolute best a Port house has to offer. Is only made in excellent vintages that are ‘declared’ by the producer. Meant to be aged in the bottle for decades.
Late Bottled Vintage: A wine from a single year bottled between four and six years after the vintage. It is produced in larger volumes than Vintage port, and a good one can taste close to a true vintage Port at the fraction of a price.
Colheita Port: A single vintage Port aged for many years in barrel. In this time, it tends to take on similar characteristics as a Tawny.
White Port: This is simply Port made with white grapes as opposed to red.
Rosé Port: This is port made in a rosé style.
Store it as you would a still wine, and when it is time for you to enjoy a bottle, serve it slightly chilled so it shows its best. If White or Rosé is your thing, drink it well chilled or try it on ice with Tonic.