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Cheers : Port Primer

Posted by Phil on 2014/12/12 11:52:17 (1844 reads) News by the same author

Cheers Port Primer

This time of year Cheers gets a lot of questions about Port. Perhaps you have a port lover on your shopping list or you have discovered a recipe that calls for Port.  Port can be confusing. We could spend a lot of time exploring the history and nuances of Port, but we thought we’d try and simplify it a bit with this Port primer.

What is Port?

Port is a fortified wine that is produced exclusively in Portugal, in the Douro Valley to be more precise. Like Champagne Port is heavily regulated by the Instituto dos Vinos do Douro e do Porto. Also, like Champagne, Port has some “imposters” that have popped up lately. To be clear, if it didn’t come from Portugal it can’t be called “Port”.

The good news is the rules that govern Port make it easier to learn the basics. Port actually uses some pretty clear terminology as opposed to the ambiguity associated with some wine.  To start, all authentic bottles of Port include the...

Selo de Garantia, a white seal that reads “Vinho do Porto Garantia” Now I don’t speak Portuguese, but I’m pretty sure that translates to, “this is a real bottle of port… guaranteed.”

Earlier we established that Port is a fortified wine. What’s it fortified with? Port is produced by adding brandy to (usually) red wine. Adding brandy to wine does a few things. It raises the alcohol content to an average of 20%ABV. (Most table wines average 14% or less ABV) Adding brandy also stops the fermentation process which preserves more of the natural sugars from the grapes.

So we have a fortified wine from the Douro valley in Portugal, that is a little sweeter with a slightly higher alcohol content. The next element is the aging.

Barrel-aged Port vs. Bottle-aged Port

For the purposes of this simple primer we will focus on two main distinctions of port wine: bottle-aged Port and barrel-aged Port. Without getting too technical, all Port spends some time in a barrel and we could spend a lot more time on that, but we won’t right now.  For simplicity’s sake, bottle-aged Ports tend to be smoother with less tannin. Barrel-aged Ports tend to take on some of the oaky flavor and color from the barrel.  Ports that are aged for a long time in barrels can even become viscous due to a slight amount of evaporation.

Types of Port

This is where we can really get in to the nuances of port but again we want to keep it simple, we’ll introduce you to port and allow you to really explore. Where should we begin our journey? We think a great place to start is with Ruby Port.


Ruby Port

If you are new to Port, Ruby Port is a great place to start. Ruby Port is named for the distinct ruby color it shows. Ruby Port is created from a mix of grapes and vintages. It’s young, vibrant, affordable and approachable. You can sip it before a meal paired with some cheese or sip it after a meal with some chocolate. One of my favorite things to do with ruby port is to brown some mushrooms in a pan until a fond forms. Then I splash some ruby port in the pan and scrape up the fond.  Then I melt a small pad of butter in the mix. The Mushrooms absorb some the Port and butter and creates a yummy sauce.  Put the port mushroom sauce over a steak and enjoy with a glass of the Port you splashed in the pan!

If you are considering trying a nice authentic “entry level” Ruby Port they run $11.00 - $20.00. Some we recommend are Grahms, Dows or Sandeman


Tawny Port

This is where it starts to get tricky but remember we’re keeping it simple! We have a saying at cheers, it goes, “Ruby is more Berry, Tawny is more Barrel.” Tawny Port starts out as Ruby Port, then it spends ten to forty years in the barrel. The time in the barrel rounds out the flavors and oxidizes it slightly.  This gives Tawny Port   a beautiful mahogany hue from the wood. Tawny Ports have four age distinctions: 10 year, 20 year, 30 year, and 40 year. There are some more complex aspects to tawny port but again this is a simple primer.  As the Port stays in the barrel, it sheds its fruitiness and begins to smooth out and take on rich complex flavors that may include nutty, or caramel, chocolate to slight orange. The added time in the barrel raises the price a little bit. You get the most bang for your buck with a 20year Port, but if you are just getting an idea of the flavor profile a 10 year Tawny will do the trick. You can pair Tawny Port with caramel, apples, tiramisu, or Crème Brulee. We recommend Taylor Fladgate, Dows or Warres for some solid Tawny Ports. They run $25.00 to $60.00 and get more expensive as the age designation goes up.


Vintage Port

This is where it gets serious. Vintage Ports are made from a blend of grapes from various vineyards from the same year. A very good year, a year so good the port powers that be declare it a “Vintage Year”. We have talked a lot about barrel aging. Vintage Port is the only Port we’ve discussed so far that is aged in the bottle. Vintage ports typically spend about six months in oak barrels then go unfiltered into the bottle. From there the bottles go straight into the cellar sometimes for 20 years or more! I have a 1997 Vintage Port in my cellar that I am planning on opening when I retire! Whereas Ruby Ports are “entry level”, Vintage ports represent the upper echelon both in style and price. It’s safe to say you should really appreciate Port before you consider a Vintage Port. That being said, if you know a port lover and want to get them a special gift, you will really impress them if you present a Vintage Port. Cheers  carries a few. They start at $100.00


Late Bottle Vintage

Don’t get us started. This is where it really gets complicated. But we promised simplicity. What follows is as simple an explanation of “LBV” as we can muster: Late bottle vintage Ports are made from a blend of grapes that all come from the same non-declared vintage year. They aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date.  This means they spend twice as long in the barrel as Vintage Declared Ports. For the sake of simplicity Late Bottle ports can be considered to offer an experience comparable to vintage port at a much lower cost. Port aficionados have been known to get into fistfights over Late Bottle Vintage Ports. Cheers carries a few “LBV’s”.  As you explore Port consider trying one, but please no fighting.



So there you have it a very simple Port Primer. Plenty to get you started down the Port road.  We hope you pick up a bottle of Port at Cheers soon.  Enjoy it as you would any other bottle of wine. Take note of the flavors tannin and acidity. Perhaps compare and contrast   ruby and tawny. Once you develop your taste for port share it by introducing your friends and family to the wonderful world of Port. If this simple primer has you curious about more complex aspects of Port, here are some links to some really fancy Port sites:

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