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Port, Portugal’s Gift to the World

If you’re into wine, you surely must have at least heard about Port, one of the most famous sweet wines in the world. Port is more than a sweet wine, though; it’s larger than life — there’s just no other wine like it. 

Available in a wide range of styles, from Port for everyday enjoyment to authentic collectors’ items, the inky, sweet wine caters to all palates and surprises for its versatility. Here’s all you need to know about Port and how to make it part of your life. 

What is Port, and Why is It Special?

Port is a Portuguese sweet, fortified wine made with ripe grapes grown in the steep, terraced vineyards along the Douro River. Growers champion the local Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and other red grapes to make Port. Although they were once traditionally pressed by stomping on them, today, they’re processed like most other wine grapes in the world.

What’s unique to the wine style is that the winemakers stop the grapes’ natural alcoholic fermentation by adding a local grape distilled spirit. The hard spirit stops yeast on its tracks, leaving behind some of the grape juice’s raw sugar and a heartwarming alcoholic strength of around 20%.

In a nutshell, Port is a red wine with residual grape sugar and elevated alcohol levels. It comes without saying the unique wine style is incredibly fragrant, and it ages astoundingly well! 

The Most Prominent Port Styles Explained

Here’s where things get tricky. Once the wine is fortified, it can take two paths. Ruby Port is aged in oak barrels for short periods, keeping its fruity personality, while Tawny Port is aged for extended periods, gaining complexity and a darker ‘tawny’ color.

Ruby Port ages for at least 2-3 years (that’s a short period in Portugal) before being bottled, and it’s deliciously fruity and generous. A more refined version is labeled as Reserve Ruby.

One of the most coveted Port styles falls on the Ruby category as well; the acclaimed Vintage Port made only on the finest vintages spends 18 months in oak before being bottled. It comes without saying Vintage Port continues to evolve in the bottle, shedding sediments and gaining complexity for many decades. Vintage Port is one of the longest-lived wine styles on the planet.

Tawny Port is also accessible, and unlike the Ruby varieties, extended oak aging of at least three years gives the wine a nutty, oxidative character. Tawny Ports have their own Vintage-dated version, called Colheita (harvest). And unlike Ruby Ports, Tawny Port can be aged 10, 20, 30 or 40 years before bottling. These are also amongst the most prestigious Ports in the market. 

How to Drink Port?

Port might be a complicated wine. After all, there are many styles at all price points made by many wineries. They all have something in common — Port is always decadent; it’s sheer liquid pleasure and has been the quintessential after-dinner drink since the 1700s.

Port is not how you end a lovely dinner with friends, though, but a way to extend the conversation into the small hours. And there’s more; Port is one of the few wine styles that pair nicely with chocolate, although it’s glorious with blue cheese as well. Is there something Port can’t do?

This is Just a Drop in the Bucket

Yes, Port is a bit more complicated than most other wines, but you need not be an expert to enjoy it. Order a bottle and try it. You’ll surely fall in love with fruity Rubies and nutty Tawnies in no time. 

And for a memorable occasion, know that Port will rise to any occasion. Vintage and other well-aged Port styles are the Rolex of the wine world, and although higher-priced, Port is always a bargain. Of course, there’s a Port style for every occasion, even for when having friends coming over for a slice of blue cheese pizza.