Learning how to serve and drink port wine isn’t difficult but it isn’t the most intuitive drink. Indeed, there are many ways that you can heighten your port drinking experience with a few tips.

In this guide, you will learn how to properly serve and drink port wine as we walk you through the following topics:

Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!

How To Serve Port Wine

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How To Properly Serve Port Wine

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Port Wine Serving Temperature

If you wish to serve port properly, which doesn’t just follow certain guidelines but also improves the experience, the most important factor is its temperature. As it’s often regarded as a close relative of both red wine and an alcoholic spirit like cognac, port wine is often served at room temperature.

However, port wine is best served slightly chilled at the following temperatures according to its variety:

  • Rosé Port: 6 – 8°C (43 – 46°F)
  • White Port: 10 – 12°C (50 – 54°F)
  • Tawny Port: 14 – 16°C (57 – 60°F)
  • Ruby Port: 16 – 18°C (60 – 64°F)
  • Vintage Port: 16 – 18°C (60 – 64°F)

Port wine consists of a variety of volatile compounds, which evaporate according to its temperature. Its rate of evaporation will then have a direct effect on the resulting flavour.

When too warm, port wine evaporates too quickly, which results in strong, alcoholic, and indistinguishable flavours. Meanwhile, chilling port at a low temperature slow the evaporation and prevents the aromatic compounds from releasing. Therefore, cold port lacks flavour.

When To Drink Port

With the exception of white and rosé ports, which are best enjoyed as apéritifs, port wine is usually enjoyed while during a dinner’s final courses. Although port wine is typically served towards the end of the meal, it is rarely consumed specifically as a digestif.

Depending on your culture and where you live, the digestif may instead consist of an alcoholic spirit like cognac, whisky or grappa.

Traditionally, a cheese course will be accompanied by port or it may instead be offered during dessert. Alternatively, port wine may be served between the two courses or even as a dessert substitute in some cases.

Nevertheless, port wine doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a meal. Instead, it can simply be enjoyed alone for pleasure. For instance, it may pair well with certain cigars!

What To Drink Port With

Port Wine & Stilton Cheese

Since there are many varieties of port, which also have different styles among them, types of port may pair differently.

For instance, a ruby port is typically quite rich in fruit flavour. Therefore, it’s often paired with a dessert that consists of full-flavoured berry fruit like strawberries or raspberries. Occasionally, it may be entirely enjoyed as a substitute for dessert if you prefer.

Meanwhile, tawny port has a spicier and rounded profile thanks to barrel-ageing. Consequently, it’s often recommended with cheese but may also go well with some dessert dishes, too.

Indeed, tawny port is traditionally paired with Stilton cheese, which is regarded as the quintessential accompaniment. Nevertheless, it marries well with cheddar and Gloucester cheeses as well. Meanwhile, it can also be enjoyed with cured meat and charcuterie.

Finally, most port can be paired with desserts rich in butterfat and chocolate, but tawny varieties tend to be the superior choice.

Do You Know The Bishop Of Norwich?

Dinner Guests Waiting To Pass The Port

If you wish to observe British tradition, the bottle or decanter is typically passed to the left in a clockwise direction around the table. Indeed, you pass the port to “port”.

Beginning with the host, each guest serves the person on his or her righthand-side before immediately passing it to the left. Occasionally, guests may serve themselves instead, but traditionally you are supposed to fill somebody else’s glass.

However, the port shouldn’t be placed on the table until everybody has been served. If somebody unintentionally overlooks this tradition and puts it down, he is typically asked the following question:

“Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”

Usually, this seemingly innocent question is a gentle reminder to continue passing the port. However, if the person is unaware of the convention, the question is often followed by:

“He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.”

The practice supposedly stems from Lewis Bagot, the Bishop of Norwich from between 1783 and 1790. When attending a diner in 1785 with the Master and Fellows of Christ’s College in Cambridge, the renowned epicurean consumed significant quantities of port without offering it to the other guests.

What Glasses To Use For Drinking Port

The traditional glassware for port usually consists of small 75 ml (3 Oz) or 120 (4 Oz) wine glasses. Although dessert wine glasses can be used instead, there is a supposedly official port glass shape and size.

Alternatively, copita-style nosing glasses for sherry and Madeira are ideal for sampling sherry as well. These often have a more pronounced tulip shape, which is effective in collecting the aromas to create a bouquet.

We’re particularly fond of Glencairn’s copita glasses, which are designed with a glass cover. Although the Glencairn is best known for its whisky glassware, its copita glass fulfils all the requirements for properly enjoying port wine. Otherwise, the Riedel Ouverture is another good option.

Do You Decant Port Wine?

Do You Decant Port Wine

Most port wines don’t require decanting and can be enjoyed directly from the bottle. However, vintage port, crusted port, and those that are labelled as “unfiltered” will contain sediment.

Therefore, careful decanting will allow you to easily separate the solid residue from the liquid so that it can be properly enjoyed. While the sediment is probably harmless, both its taste and texture are quite unpleasant!

How To Decant Port Wine

How To Decant Port Wine

If you’ve decided to decant a bottle of port, you should first turn the bottle upright a week before serving. This extra step will help reduce the amount of sediment that will stray into the decanter.

Afterwards, port wine is best decanted two hours before serving. Doing so will help the port breathe while also allowing any traces of sediment to fall to the bottom of the decanter. Therefore, if you’re hosting guests for dinner, consider decanting the port while you serve them an apéritif.

Take care when removing the cork. Not only must you avoid shaking the bottle but an old port cork may be quite fragile.

Decanting Port Wine

When slowly pouring the port, you can use a funnel with a wire filter or nylon to prevent additional sediment falling in. However, avoid paper towels or coffee filters, which can affect the flavour. Simply stop pouring when you begin to see sediment appear at the neck. You can use a light to help you see it clearly.

While waiting for it to be served, it is best left in the cellar. However, if one isn’t available, it can be kept in the refrigerator and then taken out as described above.

Sediment In Port Wine Bottle

Sediment In Empty Port Bottle

Nevertheless, a cellar will be a better environment as the smell of the refrigerator may taint the port. Although it can be covered with a stopper, it won’t allow the port to breathe quite as much. That being said, you can remove the stopper once the port wine has been taken out from the fridge to warm up.

How To Decant Port Without A Decanter

Decanting Port Without A Decanter

Indeed, not everybody owns a decanter. Unless you’re a lord that owns a handsome estate, it’s easily forgiven! However, if you can plan ahead, a simple decanter can be quite cheap on Amazon and will be as effective as a lavish one made from crystal.

Nevertheless, if time is of the essence, you can still use other containers as rudimentary decanters in a pinch. For instance, an empty bottle, pitcher, carafe, vase, or jug will suffice.

However, the makeshift decanter must be made from glass, which is an inert substance that won’t taint the port. We suggest avoiding porcelain, clay, or metal carafes. Similarly, it is vital that it is also very thoroughly cleaned several times beforehand!

You can use rock salt to remove solids and then scrub thoroughly with dish soap afterwards. After rinsing it thoroughly, leave it to air dry upside down on a rack so it isn’t wiped down with something that can leave traces of lint.

Finally, try to opt for a glass container that is heavy-bottomed and has a slightly ballooned shape. You’ll notice that decanters are wide at the bottom and thin at the top. This shape is intentional as it controls the beverage’s contact with air.

Also, don’t forget to check with water beforehand that it can be easily used to serve a glass without spilling the port all over the table.

How Long Does Port Last In A Decanter?

Small Port Decanter

As decanting port exposes it to significant levels of oxygen, it will naturally decrease its overall longevity. Therefore, it is recommended that you do this if you intend to finish the port within a short period of time.

Leaving it longer may cause it to quickly deteriorate. However, there are ways to slow down oxidation and increase its lifespan for a few days. For instance, storing the decanter in low temperatures will be the most effective way of slowing down the process.

Indeed, the decanted port can be returned to the cellar where the temperatures are cool. Yet, a refrigerator is colder, which will slow down oxidation even more. Meanwhile, making sure that it is kept in a dark place will reduce light exposure, which can help preserve it slightly longer.

Whichever approach you choose, ensure that you cover the decanter with a stopper to prevent it from becoming tainted with other smells. Similarly, remember to take the port wine out before enjoying it again so that it can heat up to the right serving temperature.

Although following the steps above can extend a port’s shelf life to up to a week, it’s recommended that decanted port is consumed within 24 hours. You can learn more via our guide to storing port wine.

What Next?

Now that you have read how to properly serve port wine, discover our other guides to the fortified wine!

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