Knowledge Base

Pass the Port – A Beginner’s Guide

Maybe enjoying a satisfying glass of port after a meal or with a cheese course is something you do regularly. Maybe it’s something you’ve never done in your life. Port is certainly a distinguished choice after meals and it may impress guests but what really is it? Here at The Drinks Cabinet, we’ve put together a quick and convenient guide to the ruby red drink.

Port is a fortified wine which is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley region of Portugal. Like many specialist drinks it is regulated strictly, in this case by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Unlike other regulated drinks, champagne for example, Port is much harder to fake, as it must be produced, labelled and marketed according to the strict rules set out by the Douro and Porto regulatory body. This means understanding what makes port unique and very specific in flavour and style.
Firstly, you’ll know if you’ve got a genuine bottle of port in your cupboard because it will feature a white seal (the Selo de Garantia) which reads Vinho do Porto Garantia. Port is traditionally made by adding brandy (or more specifically aguardente) to (usually) red wine and this provides a highly potent (around 20% ABV) and flavourful drink. The fortification process that the wine goes through means that it also provides a satisfying warmth to the body.

Port is unique because of the region it comes from, the sweetness it offers and the high alcohol content which helps it stand out. Port is also unique because of the ageing process it goes through.

Ageing Port: Barrel or Bottle

Port is usually split into two different types of ageing process, dependent on the producer’s personal preference. Bottle-aged ports tend to be smoother and less tannic whilst barrel-aged ports tend to take on more of the qualities of the barrel they are kept in, with a touch more oak to their flavour and the tang of the tannins.

There are four main types of port:

1 Ruby Port
Rich in fruit and full bodied in flavour and mouthfeel, Ruby Port is aged for a relatively short time period and is matured in large wooden vats for a maximum of six years. They maintain their deep red colour which gives them their name and flavours of black fruit and cherries come through. Ruby Port is often chosen as a great partner for a chocolate dessert.

2 Tawny Port
Tawny port is aged in wooden barrels for many years, decades in some cases, which gives it a rich yet mellow flavour. The Tawny Port is lighter in colour than other ports and is known for its rich nutty flavour with just a touch of butterscotch and a hint of spice in its aroma. Tawny port is often served chilled as an aperitif or as a smooth and tempting accompaniment for honey and almond based desserts or hard European cheeses such as Manchego.

3 Vintage Port
Top of the table when it comes to quality in the port world, vintage port is defined as the very best port wine of a single year, only produced in years when the wines have been deemed to be of the finest quality. Vintage port is kept in barrels for just two years and then bottled, without filtering, and left to mature further. Vintage Port is your classic choice to pair with stilton and flavourful blue cheeses.

4 White Port
Much rarer than the red, white port is crisp and fresh and made from the finest white grapes. It is usually served chilled or mixed in with tonic water and it is usually enjoyed as a summer drink in Portugal, with a bowl of olives or tapas.

Armed with this knowledge, check out the port shelf of The Drinks Cabinet.

Now don’t confuse it with sherry!

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