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Types of Port

Learn about what port is, how it is made and the different types of port.

Port Wine is a favoured alcoholic drink not only in the UK, but throughout the world. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif, or as a dessert wine. However, have you ever been into supermarkets and seen the array of port they have on offer and been more than slightly confused, or do you enjoy drinking port perhaps and just would like to know a little more information about the types of port available? If so, then read the article to see what phrases, such as Tawny Port, Ruby Port, Late Bottled Vintage Port and Vintage Port actually mean.

First, a bit of background:

What is port?

Port in essence is a rich, fortified wine, which originates from the City of Porto in the Northern Douro Region of Portugal. In the past, this type of fortified wine was the only product of its kind that was called Port, because of its origins. However recently, fortified wine from different regions or areas also have been calling themselves "port" and for this reason, port made in the Douro region now quite often has the word 'Porto' on the bottle or label in order to differentiate itself.

How is port made?

There are different methods of making port, processes which have taken place for hundreds of years to give port its distinctive character complemented by the climate and soil where the grapes are grown, as well as the grape varieties used in making the wine. Port is made simply by adding a grape brandy to the wine as it is fermenting, which stops the wine fermenting any longer, leaving a lot more alcoholic within the liquid, which also means the concentration of sugar within the liquid is higher, as it can’t finish converting into alcohol. This process was originally used since brandy used to be added to wines from the north of Portugal to help them retain their flavours during their trip to England.

Port is a fortified wine and can therefore age really well in wooden casks, vats or bottles (from two years to many decades) for much longer than an average bottle of wine. Being fortified, Port is capable of aging in wood for much longer than most other wines – from two years to many decades, depending on its character and potential.

The differing lengths of maturation and methods used to age the wine give rise to a diversity of different port styles, each with its own distinctive character and purpose.

What colour is port?

Most ports that you find on the market place are a shade of red, but there is a special variety of a white coloured port, which is made by using very pale grapes, although it is not often known outside of Portugal. You may also come across tawny port. Tawny port is a wine made from red grapes that are aged for between 10 and 40 years in wooden barrels, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation. This results in a gradually mellow golden-brown colour liquid. The exposure to oxygen imparts subtle nutty flavours to the wine, for lots of flavour. Tawny ports are typically sweet or medium dry and are quite often consumed as a dessert wine.

Ruby port is a young port; it is the most extensively produced type of port and it is also one of the cheapest. After fermentation, the wine is stored in tanks made of concrete or stainless steel, which prevents oxidisation, aging and preserves its rich claret color. Ruby port is normally a wine that is blended to create a balanced drink. The wine is fined (a process which removes the insoluble parts found in the wine) and cold filtered before bottling. Ruby port is best consumed within 2-3 years, as the wine does not generally improve with age.

Vintage port is a fortified wine that is aged for two years in a cask. After this point, it is left for a long period of time to age in the bottle. It might be interesting to know that vintage ports are not made every year; normally one out of three years is deemed good for vintage port production. Vintage port, although undergoes a fining process to remove insoluble or unwanted particles, often still has sediment in the bottom of the bottle from aging. It is recommended that vintage port be decanted before being consumed. A good vintage port takes 10 to 20 for the full flavours to come out, but the wine can still continue to age for much longer than that. Vintage port is a fabulous gift idea, because of how long it takes to age, many parents buy a good bottle of vintage port when a child is born, to be given to the child on their 18th or 21st birthday.

Late Bottled Vintage Port (also known as LBV port) is a form of vintage port that can be drunk immediately upon release. These ports are bottled for between four and six years after production and they don’t need any further aging like vintage ports. The selection of LBV ports range in price, which determine the quality; it is possible still to find LBV ports which match the characteristics of vintage varieties, which are blends of the best vintages from some of the best years – these are known as vintage character port.

If you are looking for types of port wine to give as gifts for 18th birthday presents or 21st birthday gifts, or even for new born babies, then consider one of our port gift sets.

Date posted: 20/09/2011

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