What Is Port Wine?

Port is a popular fortified wine from Portugal with a rich history. This sweet wine is served as a digestif and dessert wine and is made using a variety of grapes. Port can exhibit flavors of caramel, berries, chocolate, and spice and is high in alcohol thanks to the addition of brandy. The name “port” is derived from the coastal city of Porto, and authentic port is only produced in the Douro Valley.

The Common Styles of Port Wine

There are many different official categories of Port, but most fall under these 4 categories:
• Ruby (Red) Port: a deeply-colored red Port which includes Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port
• Tawny Port: a very sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavors
• White Port: made with indigenous white grapes including Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia
• Rosé Port: This is a new style of Port wine made like rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, violets and caramel

What Makes Port Unique?

Portugal’s Douro Valley is the key region for growing red and white wine grapes used to make port. These indigenous grapes favor the dry climate of the Douro Valley and grow on terraced hillsides. The growing season extends through the summer with harvest typically falling in mid-September.

Port production starts off similar to other still wines. Once harvested, the grapes are pressed, often still by foot, to extract the juice and initiate fermentation. The grapes must ferment for several days until alcohol levels reach around 7 percent.

The young wine is then fortified with brandy to bring the fermentation process to a sudden stop and to capture the new wine’s youthful fruit nuances. This fortification will leave the residual sugar levels considerably higher than most still wines, producing a sweet wine.

The batch of young port is pumped into large oak casks, typically for 18 months or so of aging. At the year and a half mark, these young port wines are blended with other batches to find complementary components that will ultimately deliver a delicious wine with well-defined fruit, friendly palate appeal, and overarching balance.

The young port may then be transferred to bottles for further aging or receive additional time in a cask.

Food Pairings

Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate port’s pairing versatility and its ability to function as dessert itself. Exact pairings will vary depending on the variety of port.

Tawny port pairs well with soft cheeses like brie as well as desserts like pecan pie, cheesecake, or milk chocolate.

Ruby port’s rich berry and chocolate flavors pair well with the same types of desserts: dark chocolate truffles, fresh raspberries, fruit cake, and aged cheeses.

White port can be used as a replacement for gin to make a “port and tonic” or a “portini.”