Keen to learn about Port wine and where to buy this sweet, delectable drink?
Port wine is a delectable dessert wine, along with the likes of sherry and Madeira. But this drink has far more to offer than just being a digestif after a heavy meal.
But, what are the different types of Port wines? How do they taste?
And, which Port wines should you have in your wine cellar?
In this article, we’ll tell you all about port wine, its colorful history, how and where it’s made, the grape varieties, and much more.
This Article Contains
(Click on a link below to go to a specific section)
- What is Port Wine?
- Port Wine Regions
- How Is Port Wine Made?
- Styles of Port Wine
- What is Vintage in the context of Port Wines?
- What does Port Wine Taste Like?
- Serving and Drinking Port Wine
- How Long Can You Cellar Port Wine?
- Top Producers of Port Wine
- Best Port Wines 2020
- Buy the Best Port Wines through Vinovest
What is Port Wine?
Port is a sweet, fortified wine produced exclusively in Portugal’s Douro Valley. It’s usually enjoyed as a dessert wine because of its richness, but some types can be served as an aperitif (almost like a Beaujolais Nouveau!)
A Brief History of Port Wine
“Port” was named in the 17th century after the seaport city of Porto, located at the mouth of Douro River. It used to be transported down the river from Douro Valley in boats called barcos rabelos for trading in Porto.
Port became popular in England when the war with France reduced supplies of French wine, while the Methuen Treaty of 1703 strengthened the Port wine trade.
In that era, the Port wine trade was dominated by powerful shipping families, which is why Port producers are still called “shippers.” Many were British, which you can see reflected in the names of famous Port wines.
Port Wine Regions
Authentic Port is unique to Portugal, though Port style wine is made in other parts of the world.
Port Wine Regions in Portugal
Port comes from grapes cultivated in Portugal's Douro Valley. Douro became an official appellation in 1756, and is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after Chianti (Italy) and Tokaj (Hungary).
Douro has three official Port production zones:
- Baixo Corgo
- Cima Corgo
- Douro Superior
Grapes grown in Baixo Corgo are used mainly for Ruby and Tawny Ports. Those in Cima Corgo are of higher quality and used for making Vintage, Reserve, Aged Tawny and Vintage ports. Douro Superior is the least cultivated of the three zones.
Other Regions that make Port Style Wine
According to the European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) guidelines, only Portuguese wine can be labeled “port” or “Porto.”
However, Port style wines are also produced in countries like the US, Australia, Argentina, Canada, India, Spain and South Africa.
A winemaker of Port style wine can’t label it as “Port” (unless made before 2006), but the wine may be named after a Port style. So, something labeled “Tawny” was probably made like tawny Port, with long aging in a cask. Brown Brothers Australian Tawny wine is an example.
Port Wine Grape Variety
True Port is a unique blend of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties. There are over 50 sanctioned varieties for Port production, but the most cultivated are these red wine grapes:
- Touriga Franca
- Touriga Nacional
- Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo)
- Tinta Barroca
- Tinta Cão
White Port uses white grape varieties, like:
- Donzelinho Branco
How Is Port Wine Made?
Harvested grapes are pressed (sometimes by foot) to extract the juice, and fermented for several days until alcohol levels reach around 7%.
A neutral grape spirit (a clean, young wine) is then added to the resulting base wine. This fortifies it, stops fermentation and boosts the alcohol content, leaving residual sugar in the wine. The fortification spirit is called brandy (but it’s not like the commercial brandy that you’d come across.)
The fortified wine is stored, usually in barrels or oak casks, and aged around 18 months. After this period, they’re blended with other batches to create the final Port wine. The wine is then bottled or is aged for a longer period in casks.
Styles of Port Wine
Portuguese Port comes in several styles regulated by the IVDP (Institute of Douro and Port Wines).
1. Ruby Port
Ruby is the most produced and least pricey Port type. It’s usually aged in steel or concrete tanks to prevent oxidative aging and preserve its fruitiness and bright red color.
This deep red Port is fined, and cold filtered before bottling and generally doesn’t improve with age.
Reserve Ruby Port
Reserve Ruby is a premium Ruby Port, typically aged for 4-6 years in wood. To be a ‘Reserve’, it must be approved by the Câmara de Provadores, the IVDP's tasting panel.
2. Tawny Port
Tawny Port is a very sweet, barrel-aged Port made from red grapes. It has ”nutty” flavors from exposure to oxygen while in the barrel and has a golden-brown color.
Tawny Port, labeled without an age category is a blend of Port that has been barrel-aged for at least three years. Reserve Tawny Port is aged about seven years. Anything older than this will have its age stated on the label, usually 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.
Colheita Port is a single-vintage tawny port that’s barrel-aged aged for at least seven years. Unlike Tawny Ports with an age category, Colheita has the vintage year labeled on the bottle.
Don’t get confused between Colheita Port and Vintage Port. Vintage Port spends about 18 months in a barrel after harvest then continues to mature in a bottle. Colheita can spend years in a barrel before bottling.
3. White Port
White Port is made from white wine grapes and comes in various styles, from dry to sweet. White Port Colheita is produced from a single grape harvest, aged in huge tanks, to obtain a straw color. Reserve White Port requires at least seven years of aging to gain a nutty flavor.
4. Rosé Port
Rosé Port is a new style of Port wine first released in 2008 by the Croft Port house. It’s made like a rosé wine, with limited exposure to grape skins giving it the rose color.
Vintage Port is produced from grapes of a ‘declared’ single vintage year, sourced from different quintas, then aged in barrels or stainless steel for up to two and a half years before bottling.
It’ll then age another 10-40 years in the bottle, continuing to gain complexity as grape solids slowly decompose.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
Single Quinta Vintage Ports are made the same way as Vintage Ports but are produced from a single vineyard, and in years that a vintage is not declared.
6. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) wine spends four to six years in a barrel before bottling - unlike Vintage Port wine that’s bottled after two years.
During this period, a Late Bottled Vintage Port matures and settles down. Unlike a Vintage Port, it is ready to drink when bottled, comes at a lower price, and doesn’t need to be decanted.
Crusted Port (sometimes called Vintage Character Port) is a blend of wines that’s spent a minimum four years of barrel-aging. They’re bottled unfiltered and cellared for three years before selling. It can take a decade or more for the “crust” to form in the bottle, indicating that the wine will keep on improving with age.
The vintage-dated Garrafeira is rare and unusual. The IVDP requires it to spend about 3-6 years wood-aging, then at least another eight years in glass demijohns (large, narrow-necked bottles) before bottling. Today, only the Niepoort family produces this style of Port.
Some describe Garrafeira as tasting like bacon due to oils that may form across the glass during the second phase of maturation.
Now, the word “vintage” has a very distinct meaning for Port wines.
Let’s see what that is.
What is Vintage in the context of Port Wines?
Most Port wines are bottled and released as non-vintage wine (there’s no year on its label). But, Vintage Port is made only in the best years, which may be only a few per decade.
This is in contrast to the ‘second wines’ of Bordeaux producers, who release a year-labeled top wine almost every year along with wines of lesser quality in some years.
When a Port house considers its wine to be good enough for a vintage, samples are sent to the IVDP for approval, the house declares the vintage, and the year appears on the bottle.
What does Port Wine Taste Like?
Port is a sweet wine, full-bodied and usually lacking in acidity. It can have aromas of dried fruit, plum and spice with flavors of blackberry, caramel and chocolate sauce, though that depends on the style of port.
Here are the flavor profiles for different types of port:
- Ruby Port: This red wine Port tastes of berries, spice and chocolate.
- Tawny Port: Offers more caramel and nut flavors with dried fruit.
- White Port: Has bright flavors like apple, citrus peel and toasted nuts.
- Vintage Port: Has a wide array of flavors, including almond, butterscotch, graphite and green peppercorn.
Serving and Drinking Port Wine
What’s the best way to enjoy your bottle of Port wine?
A. How to Serve Port Wine
Use a Port wine glass, which has a serving size of approximately 3 oz. Port should be served at around 15-20 °C (59–68 °F). So, take your Port out of the wine fridge about half an hour before serving, allowing it to warm up to the right temperature.
Tawny Port can be served cooler, and white Port can be chilled.
You could also mix cocktails like the Le Coup D’etat, which is a blend of elderflower, Port and Champagne.
B. Cooking with Port Wine
Port is a favorite addition to chocolate cakes and gooey sauces. It can even be used as a reduction sauce for savory dishes. The affordable Ruby Port, for example, offers beautiful red berry and cinnamon flavors.
C. Port Wine Food Pairings
Food pairing with Port is easy because it’s so versatile!
Here are some pairings you should try out:
- Ruby and Reserve Port: Gorgonzola cheese, chocolate mousse or red fruits.
- Aged Tawny Port: Beijing duck, creme brulee, pecans and walnuts.
- LBV and Vintage Port: Venison, brie cheese, dark chocolate, almonds.
- White Port: Aged gouda cheese, olives, salted almonds.
You may wonder now if Port wines are worth cellaring or investing in for the long term.
How Long Can You Cellar Port Wine?
Only Vintage Port (not LBV) is designed for aging in the bottle — typically up to 30 to 40 years. Some of the most prized Vintage Port wines are over a century old.
Most of the Port you’ll find is bottled for immediate drinking, with a plastic-top cork cap. The Vintage Port meant for aging will have a regular, long cork.
Now, the quality of Port wine varies based on who makes it.
So, which are the makers that you should look for?
Top Producers of Port Wine
Keep an eye out for these top producers of Port wine:
- Quinta das Carvalhas
- Van Zellers
- W. & J. Graham's
- Smith Woodhouse
Which are some of the best Port wines you can buy?
Further reading: Best wine brands to buy in 2020
Best Port Wines to Buy in 2020 (Includes Price, Tasting Notes)
The finest Port wines tend to be Vintage Port, but there are other great choices too.
1. Real Companhia Velha Royal Oporto Quinta das Carvalhas Vintage Port 1970
Real Companhia Velha was founded in 1756 and is the oldest wine company in Portugal. The company owns some of the best properties in Douro, including Quinta das Carvalhas in Pinhão, which has existed since 1759 and has vines over 100 years old.
Flavor profile: The 1970 Vintage Port is firm and fruity, rich with good fruit. It’s a very full-bodied Port with great flavor and texture.
Average price of Real Companhia Velha Royal Oporto Quinta das Carvalhas Vintage Port: $150+
2. Van Zellers VZ 40 Years Old Tawny Port
Van Zellers was already trading Port in the early 18th century though it was officially established as a Port Wine shipper in 1780. Sold to other wine merchants in the mid 19th century, it was eventually reacquired by the Van Zeller family in the 1930s.
Flavor profile: This aged tawny displays a softened, mellow texture with a complex nose of dry fruits, such as almonds, nuts and hazelnuts, blended with the aroma of tobacco and white chocolate.
Average price of Van Zellers VZ 40 Years Old Tawny Port: $100+
3. 1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port
Fonseca is a Port house popular for its unfailing quality and the lush style of its vintage creations. This house owns three quintas across the Douro region and makes a variety of Port from Reserve Ruby, Bin 27 to Tawny and White Ports of varying ages.
Flavor profile: The 1998 Vintage Port offers a gorgeous, rich, spicy nose and plenty of dark fruit flavors and leather.
Average price of 1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port: $50+
4. 2016 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port
Smith Woodhouse produces opulent Vintage Port that’s balanced by firm hard tannins and ages beautifully. Most of the base wine is sourced from their Madelena vineyard in Rio Torto district, which contributes to the consistent quality of the Ports.
Flavor profile: This 2016 Vintage Port brims with aromas of bergamot, tea-leaf, rockrose and violets. On the palate, it displays ripe, black fruit and licorice. Peppery tannins give it freshness and excellent structure.
Average price of 2016 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port: $60+
5. Quinta do Noval 40 Year Old Tawny Port
Established in 1715, Quinta do Noval is one of the few Port houses to be located within Douro Valley, instead of Villa Nova de Gaia, where many other producers age their wine. Named after its most famed vineyard, the Quinta do Noval, this house is best known for its Nacional Vintage Ports.
Flavor profile: This aged tawny is full-bodied, rich and sweet, offering a complex nutty bouquet reminiscent of mint and almonds.
Average price of Quinta do Noval 40 Year Old Tawny Port: $160+
6. W & J Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port
Graham’s began as a textile company in the early 1800s by brothers William and John Graham, who received a barrel of Port as debt payment. Today, Graham’s creates fantastic Vintage Ports of reasonable pricing and consistent quality.
Flavor profile: This Reserve Ruby Port is rich with seductive aromas of cherry, ripe plum and dark chocolate. It has a complex palate with an excellent structure and a long, lingering finish.
Average price of W & J Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port: $20+
7. Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny Port
Taylor Fladgate is a renowned Port producer, noted for its wide range of ports from Vintage to Tawny Ports of varying ages, but mostly for creating the LBV Port wine style. Produced at the famed Quinta de Vargellas estate, Taylor’s ports offer a structure, depth and complexity that is unique compared to other Vintage Ports in the region.
Flavor profile: This is an aromatic, sweet, aged tawny with notes of dried apricot. It is balanced and round, finishing with acidity and tension.
Average price of Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny Port: $200+
8. Croft Pink Rose Port 2018
Founded in 1588, Croft is the oldest active Port producer today. With a rich heritage spanning over four centuries, Croft is renowned for its Vintage Ports and range of wood-aged Reserves and Tawnies. But it also maintains its pioneering spirit with new creations such as the first-ever Rosé Port, the Croft Pink.
Flavor profile: This Rosé Port has floral notes that form at the end to enhance the pungent and fruity aromas of raspberry. The palate is rich in flavors of ripe raspberry and cherry, including nuances of grapefruit and honey.
Average price of Croft Pink Rose Port 2018: $10+
9. Warre's Vintage Port 2016
Warre’s origins date back to 1670 when two Englishmen, Burgoyne and Jackson, established a company in the region, trading wine, oil, fruit and other goods. It now produces several styles, including Tawny, Ruby, White and single-vineyard Vintage Ports.
Flavor profile: The 2016 Vintage Port has a compelling bouquet with intense black fruit laced with nutmeg, clove and hints of smoke, and a palate that is saturated in ripe tannin.
Average price of Warre's Vintage Port 2016: $90+
10. Niepoort Garrafeira Port
Niepoort was founded by Dutch immigrants in 1842. It’s a family-owned producer of Port and table wines in the Douro Valley, known today for its Vintage, Colheita and tawny Ports.
Flavor profile: The Garrafeira Port offers a fine, complex, but balanced noes of spices, plums, red fruits, chocolate and cigar box. The palate has soft, elegant, silky tannins that blend wonderfully to an acidity, giving freshness and a long, pleasant finish.
Average price of Niepoort Garrafeira Port: $600+
11. Dow’s Vintage Port 2011
Dow has been producing traditional-style Port for over 200 years and is currently owned by Symington Family Estates. This House produces one of Douro’s finest Vintage expressions, typically offering a weight and dimension that makes it unique to other Vintage Port.
Flavor profile: This 2011 vintage has a beautiful, extravagant bouquet with large amounts of red and black, Indian spice, and hints of orange rind and menthol. The palate is beautifully balanced with velvety smooth, plump tannins, and a harmonious, white pepper-tinged finish.
Average price of Dow’s Vintage Port 2011: $200+
12. 2007 Cockburn’s Vintage Port
Cockburn's Port house dates back to 1815, based in Quinta dos Canais in the Upper Douro. The quinta is named after the system of stone channels which irrigate the vines, built in the 19th century.
Flavor profile: The 2007 vintage Port offers aromas of violets. The palate is dominated by rich cassis flavors, with a dry and elegant finish.
Average price of 2007 Cockburn’s Vintage Port: $70+
What’s the best way to buy these fine Port wines?
Your best option is to use a wine investment platform like Vinovest to help you buy some of the best Port Wines in the world.
What’s more? Vinovest can even store these wines and sell them for you later.
Let’s see how this works.
Buy the Best Port Wines through Vinovest
Vinovest is a wine investment company that can help you buy wines for drinking or long term investing. Vinovest also authenticates, stores, and sells your Ports, Asti Spumante, and Montrachet wines for you at attractive prices!
How It Works
You only need to follow four simple steps:
- Sign up on the Vinovest website.
- Fill a questionnaire to share your risk appetite and investment preferences.
- Add funds to your account (minimum investment of $1000.)
- Track your fine wine portfolio online.
Benefits of Buying Wines Through Vinovest
Here are the key benefits of using Vinovest:
Easy buying and selling
You can easily buy and sell any wine from anywhere in the globe using Vinovest’s Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based online platform.
You’ll get the best below-retail prices as Vinovest sources wines directly from wineries, wine exchanges, and wine merchants.
Provenance and authenticity
Vinovest will authenticate every wine bottle and check its provenance for you, before you decide to buy them. So you don’t have to worry about counterfeits.
Vinovest’s professional team of Sommeliers and data scientists curate your wine portfolio with proprietary financial models based on historical data.
Security cameras keep your wines safe. Power back-ups ensure optimal climate control to cover emergencies. Vinovest also has a comprehensive insurance policy to protect your wine cellar.
Global network access
You’ll have access to upcoming vineyards, limited releases of rare wines, and private sales of wineries through Vinovest has an extensive wine network.
You own every single wine you buy via Vinovest.
Want to uncork that aged tawny Port to celebrate an occasion with your wine enthusiast friends? Vinovest will have it safely delivered to your doorstep. Vinovest will deliver it to your buyer too once you sell it.
Besides being a great aperitif and a dessert wine, Ports (especially the Authentic Port wines from Portugal) make an excellent addition to your long term wine collection as well.
But, you wouldn’t want to research the umpteen styles of Port, pick the best ones yourself, make sure they’re authentic and are stored under ideal conditions.
Vinovest makes this entire process hassle-free!
So why not sign up now, and start building your wine collection right away?