Most port wines follow a similar production process. However, there are different styles that are usually created by varying ageing techniques. Similarly, although the name usually helps in guessing that port is from Portugal, its production zones are quite elusive.
In this guide, you will learn where port is made and the different styles of port that you can try:
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
Tawny Vs Ruby Port
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Where Is Port Wine Made?
Port is produced in one of the oldest protected wine-producing regions in the world in northern Portugal.
Its name is associated with the city of coastal Porto where it was exported. However, it’s produced in the Douro valley and was historically transported as far as 70 km (43 miles) along its eponymous river to the seaport.
Although relatively coastal, the region is protected by the Atlantic’s oceanic influence by the Serra do Marão mountains. Despite cold winters, long and hot summers provide the grapes with an extended maturation period.
As a result, the grapes are naturally high in sugar, which is essential for producing high-quality rum. Meanwhile, the high amount of schist in the soil creates a protective membrane for the vines. Their deep roots may develop through fractures, which provides access to water deposits during dry spells.
The Douro valley’s terrain is particularly iconic in that it consists of steep south-facing terrain that overlooks the river. In order to make the vineyards more manageable and to engineer the level of sun exposure, the hillsides are often carved into flattened terraces.
The port-wine appellation is divided into three official production zones:
Surrounding the town of Peso da Régua, Baixo Congo is the westernmost zone. Furthermore, it’s the most humid of the three zones given its proximity to the coast. As a result, it tends to produce inexpensive and light port wines that are rarely aged long.
Most port-wine production is concentrated around Pinhão and São João da Pesqueira in Clima Corgo. As it’s further from the coast, it experiences less rainfall and higher average temperatures. Its drier climate is often used to produce port wines that are aged for longer.
Bordered with Spain, Douro Superior has the hottest and driest climate. Douro Superior has a shorter port production history as most wine was transported by river before roads were improved. Since the journey was long and meant crossing rapids, Douro Superior was less than ideal.
Nevertheless, its comparatively flat terrain allows mechanised cultivation and harvest. Therefore, producers in Douro Superior today could produce port wine at a lower cost.
Types Of Port Wine
There are many different types of port, which are usually distinguished by different ageing techniques. Although the way they are categorised may vary, they typically consist of the following types of port:
- Ruby Port
- Tawny Port
- White & Rosé Port
- Vintage Port
- Late Bottled Vintage (“LBV”) Port
- Colheita Port
- Crusted Port
Scroll down to learn about each one or use the links above to jump ahead.
Ruby port is often characterised by distinctively fruit-forward flavours thanks to reduced reductive ageing in oak barrels. It must be aged for at least two years, but this often takes places in either huge balseiro barrels or inert steel tanks.
As a result, its tannins are reduced in favour of a smoother profile, but it doesn’t lose its fruity properties. Nevertheless, there are no regulations preventing premium ruby port from being aged in oak barrels for longer.
When a ruby port is referred to as a “reserve”, it implies that it was produced using superior grapes. Generally speaking, ruby port is one of the most affordable varieties. After all, it is usually enjoyed young and as soon as it has been bottled.
However, ruby port can be defined as an extensive family of styles. Due to the short time spent barrel-ageing, vintage, late-bottle vintage, and crusted ports described below may be regarded as varieties of ruby port.
One of the most popular types of port, tawny is used to describe a variety that has undergone more extensive barrel-ageing. Consequently, it tends to have a spicier profile with less emphasis on fresh fruit.
Tawny port will typically feature an age statement, which indicates the minimum time spent in wood of all the batches used for the final blend.
It is assumed that those that don’t have one will have experienced at least three years of barrel-ageing. Meanwhile, a tawny port with a “reserve” label will likely have spent seven years in casks.
Otherwise, the age statement will be normally presented in increments of 10 years. Like Scotch whisky, this age is regarded as a standard, but 40-year old tawny ports are not uncommon.
White & Rosé Port
As hinted earlier in this guide, white port is made using white grapes. It became popular during the early 20th century and was often used as a cocktail ingredient like Lillet and vermouth. However, it can also be enjoyed chilled as an apéritif.
Meanwhile, rosé port is technically a derivative of ruby port. Yet, the wine has undergone a short maceration time like rosé wine to create the distinctive pink colour.
If it’s a particularly good harvest, producers may declare a vintage, which is approved by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP) after submitting a sample. These are announced at the winemaker’s volition and, on excellent years, most producers may declare a vintage.
Rather than indicate an age-statement, vintage port will instead show a year. Indeed, the contents of the bottle only come from that indicated year’s harvest. These are aged in barrels or vats for a maximum of two and a half years before being bottled.
Although they spend a brief time ageing in casks, they are bottled with sediment that consists of the remaining grape solids. These allow the port to continue ageing in the bottle. In most cases, they will spend an additional decade bottle ageing, but it can be far longer.
Vintage port is often still blended with wines from other producers. However, winemakers may release “single quinta” vintage port, which is similar to single malt whisky in that it comes from only one estate.
Large houses will often release a single quinta port that consists of their best plot on poorer years when other areas didn’t match its quality.
Late Bottled Vintage Port
Also referred to as “LBV”, late bottled vintage port emerged during the 1960s when the popularity of vintage port waned. Rather than being bottle-aged, producers left their wine in the barrel.
Traditionally, LBV port is bottled unfiltered, which results in a similar albeit more affordable alternative to vintage port. However, some producers have started filtering and fining LBV port before it is bottled.
While it’s allowed, it does undermine the purpose of LBV port. Typically, it will be clearly stated on the bottle whether it has been unfiltered or not. Similarly, those labelled as “bottle matured” LBV port will have spent at least three years bottle ageing.
Finally, late bottled vintage port can be aged by collectors and may even improve with age.
Not to be confused with either of the above, Colheita uses concepts of vintage port and applies it to tawny port. Like tawny port, it is primarily aged in oak barrels, but its bottle features a vintage rather than an age statement.
The term is used to describe port wine that has spent a significant amount of time barrel-ageing. Colheita port must age for at least seven years, but it can spend decades ageing in wooden barrels.
Occasionally, particularly old colheita port may be stored in dame-jeanne or demijohn glass containers for a slower ageing process. This variety of colheita port is referred to as Garrafeira and is only produced by Neipoort today. You can also find premium white Colheiate port, too.
Although most port is derived from a single year’s production, which is expressed as an age statement or a vintage, it can occasionally be blended. Crusted port combines several vintages and allows producers to create new flavours with a unique blend.
Like vintage and late bottled vintage varieties, crusted port is bottled with sediment.
Now that you have read about the different types of port, learn more about it with our resources: