What Is Port Wine and How to Drink It?

Port wine is one of the most enduringly popular after-dinner drinks the world over.

This sweet wine is a digestif with many layers that’s well worth adding to your drink’s menu.

Today, we’ll walk you through a look at what Port wine is, exploring the many different types of this digestif, as well as recommending the best methods of serving Port.

Let’s kick off with some basics.

I. What Is Port?

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Port wine, often abbreviated to Port, is a sweet fortified wine hailing from Portugal.

Made from a variety of aromatic grapes, Port also includes a distilled spirit, typically a grape spirit like brandy or cognac.

Just like authentic Champagne must come from a specific French region, so bona fide Port must come from the Douro Valley in Portugal. The drink is named for Porto, a coastal city nestled along the Douro River. Despite this, many wines proclaiming themselves Port may come from different regions, so you should always check the label closely for provenance.

The sweet taste of Port means it’s ideal as a dessert wine, enjoyed either during or after dessert. Port can be served in place of a dessert.

Due to the fortified nature of Port, it has a higher alcohol content than most regular wine, close to 20% rather than the 12% ABV of most wines. As such, Port is normally served in small portions.

Before we explore the various different types of Port, a glimpse first at one broad and overarching distinction.


II. Barrel-Aged Port v Bottle-Aged Port

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Port wine falls into one of the following two categories:

  • Bottle-aged
  • Barrel-aged

Bottle-aged Port is smooth and typically less tannic.

Barrel-aged Port, by contrast, takes on some of the properties of the wooden barrels it’s aged inside, namely an oaky taste and golden color. Barrel-aged Ports tend to be more viscous, too, through the process of evaporation that takes place.

OK, we’ll look now at some of the many different types of Port, since not all Port is created equal.


III. What Are The Different Types of Port?

  • Ruby Port
  • Ruby Reserve Port
  • LBV (Late Bottled Vintage Port)
  • Tawny Port
  • Vintage Port

Ruby Port

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An entry-level Port, Ruby Port is the polar opposite of Vintage Port. For a beginner, though, this is advantageous. Vintage Port is delicate, so fragile it needs consuming within 48 hours of opening the bottle.

So, with Ruby Port, you’ll get an affordable bottle of Port – expect to pay around fifteen bucks for a bottle – and it will last for a month after uncorking.

Ruby Port usually consists of a blend of young barrel-aged Ports. These Ports have been in the barrel for anywhere from three to five years.

Ready to drink with no decanting required if you buy filtered Ruby Port, serve in small glasses with some fruit an cheese to develop a taste for this wonderful digestif.

Ruby Reserve Port

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Ruby Reserve Port was once called Vintage Character Port, until the term was banned back in 2002.

This type of Port is also affordable and made from a blend of multiple vintages.

Just like Ruby Port, this comes bottled and ready to serve without decanting.

What differentiates this variant of Port from Ruby Port is the inclusion of higher-caliber wines in the blend. These wines have been aged for five years.

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage Port)

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LBV or Late Bottle Vintage Port was once called Traditional Port.

This type is made from wine aged in wood for four to six years.

The difference between LBV Port and Ruby Reserve Port is that LBV uses a specific vintage with the year represented on the label.

You won’t need to cellar LBV Port, and it’s good to drink immediately after purchase.

This variety of Port comes both filtered and unfiltered. Unfiltered Port is also called Crusted Port. This variety is packed with even more character and benefits from ten years in the cellar.

When it comes to serving this drink, you’ll need a decanter and a funnel to deal with the sediment that’s accumulated. Fail to do this and you could end up with a mouthful of dust.

Tawny Port

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Tawny Port starts out in life as Ruby Port, but then spends up to forty years in the barrel. This extended time in the barrel rounds out the flavors of the drink, leads to slight oxidizing, and also imparts the rich mahogany hue of the wood it’s aged inside.

There are four distinct varieties of Tawny Port:

  • 10-year
  • 20-year
  • 30-year
  • 40-year

That lengthy spell in the barrel lets Tawny Ports get rid of the fruitiness while taking on tones of chocolate and caramel in a silky blend.

As you would expect, the longer the aging, the more these Ports cost, and at the same time the flavors will become even more nuanced.

For most reasonable purposes, a bottle of 20-year Tawny Port will deliver the most bang for your buck. The tannins will have softened nicely, and the flavors become fully pronounced.

Vintage Port

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At the upper end, Vintage Port is the only variety on today’s list that matures in its bottle. This means that bottles of Vintage Port go straight into the cellar. They remain cellared for 20 years. This process is necessary as Vintage Port only spends two years or so in the barrel before bottling, giving it a great deal of work to do before it hits the shelves.

The world of Vintage Port is something to ease yourself into gently as these bottles are not cheap. Consider enlisting the help of an expert.

Most decent houses don’t declare a vintage unless it was an excellent year, so you are assured of a certain level of quality when you buy into this end of the Port market.

So far, so good. How, then, do you enjoy the Port you’ve decided makes the right fit for you?


VI. How to Best Enjoy Your Port

There are three main options at your disposal if you have a bottle of Port to hand:

  • Drink it straight
  • Make some Port-based cocktails
  • Use Port when cooking

Drink it straight

Drinking Port wine neat is the most sophisticated method, served straight up in a traditional Port glass.

That said, not all Port is suitable for drinking in this fashion.

If you want to appreciate Port straight-up, look for Tawny Port, LBV Port, or Vintage Port. If you’re opting for Tawny Port to drink neat, it should be at least ten years old.

Make some Port-based cocktails

With Ruby, Tawny, White, or Pink Port, you have the makings of a delicious cocktail.

Use Port when cooking

Making a port wine reduction sauce is a great way to jazz up your steaks or meats with a drizzling of rich sauce.

Port wine sauce also works well with chocolate cake, and it even makes a nice topping for ice cream.

All styles of Port are ideal for cooking. Look for Ruby Port if you want something with the longest shelf-life.


V. Other Considerations

Before we wrap up today, there are a few more pointers to consider:

  • Serving Temperature
  • Type of Glass
  • Food Pairings

Serving Temperature

You should avoid serving Port wine at room temperature. If you make the mistake of serving this drink too warm, the high alcohol content will trigger a burning sensation in line with that you would experience from drinking a shot of whiskey.

Serve full-bodied Ports at 60F to 66F. Lighter Ports can be served from 55F to 60F.

Regardless of the type of Port, refrigerate the bottle for thirty minutes before serving. You can then decant your bottle or pour the first glass.

Let the wine warm and breathe on the table for at least ten minutes before serving.

Type of Glass

The shape of the glass you use to drink wine from can impact the nose and the finish.

Port responds best to serving in small Port glasses. These have narrow mouths that help to minimize evaporation, while enhancing the bouquet of your Port. Wine glasses or sparkling wine glasses will work if you have no Port glasses to hand.

Food Pairings

As a dessert wine or digestif, Port pairs well with a variety of sweets. It also makes a wonderful dessert in its own right if you’re feeling too full to take on ice cream.

Tawny Port and Ruby Port are great with cheesecake, dark chocolate cake, or chocolate truffles.

White and Rose Port varieties are a great match for peaches, lemon meringue, and strawberry-based dishes.


VI. Conclusion

Well, we hope by now you have a clear understanding of the main major varieties of Port. You should also be well placed to serve this drink the right way, and to pair it with the right food combinations.

Be sure to bookmark our blog before you head off today, and we hope to see you soon!

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