All About Ports

What is Port? How does Port wine differ from other wines? And why should you even consider becoming a Port enthusiast?


All great questions!

Port wine is actually “fortified,” which means most wineries abort the fermentation process with a grape brandy, then age the Ports in either concrete or stainless steel casks (Ruby Ports), or oak barrels (Tawny Ports).  The result is a much higher (18% to 24%) alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content. The aroma, texture, and taste are therefore more complex. You don’t just sip or drink Port; you experience it.

According to Portuguese law, all Ports originate in Portugal’s  Douro Valley region. “Imposters” from California, for example, should be called “fortified” or “dessert” wines, but certainly not “Ports.” Officially, the European Union has actually drafted legislation to define true Port as such, in the same vein as true Champagnes come from that region of France; all others shall be called, “sparkling wines.” Clearly, Europeans are serious about their wines!

The two most common Ports are Ruby and Tawny, thus I will be focusing on these two varietals (but, stay tuned for a review on a White Port).

Ruby Ports are red, fruity, and generally aged 3-5 years. They are commonly the least expensive and most widely available.

Tawny Ports are usually brownish red, more complex in flavor, aged longer (minimum of seven years for Tawny Reserve Ports) and more expensive than Ruby Ports. One exception is the Dow label; you can purchase their Ruby, Tawny and White Ports for the same low price (under $14). It’s a great place to start a Port journey without coughing up a lot of money (See my first review for a side-by-side comparison.).

Tawny Ports are also most commonly the Port of choice for additional aging in wood barrels, to develop even richer, more complex flavors. Imagine an already fine wine taking on aromas and flavors, i.e. “basting” for 20, 30 , or even 40 years! If you want to sample a guaranteed fine Port, look for “Vintage Ports.”  They are bottled using banner year grapes, from Portugal, after two or three years in wooden casks. Imagine experiencing one of these Vintage Ports after 20, 30 or even 40 years of aging! No doubt, you will convert, as I have.

Although Ports are commonly referred to as “sweet” or “dessert” wines, not all Ports are sweet. As with other wines, Ports may be semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, or even extra dry, depending upon when the wine maker chose to halt the fermentation. And, even though I’ve only sampled a dozen or so Ports to date, the variance of color, aromas, and flavors is acutely evident, even for a neophyte! That’s just one of the characteristics of Port which makes it so fascinating.

Over the next few weeks, months, and years we’ll be learning all there is to learn about Port, from the very basics (like how to smell and taste Port wine) to the intricacies of naming which ingredients comprise our favorites. We will all become experts together! A little later, I’ll be adding highlights such as which cheese(s) best accompany which Port(s)? Heck, we might even investigate Port Wine Cheese!

But, until then, keep checking back for updates. Or, make it easy on yourself by subscribing to updates, so you won’t miss a thing! If you choose to share your email address with me, I can guarantee it will go no further! I hate SPAM (but I did have a nice salami the other day, paired with a Tawny Port and crackers)!

Finally, feel free to comment/contribute. I’d love to start some rousing discussions about Ports, and get to know you better!

I am your doc in Port!