Port in a nutshell

When I think of Port, I think of Christmas. I think of cigars and smoking jackets, burning log fires, perhaps accompanied by a delicious cheeseboard or chocolates. But Port isn’t just plain Port. There are LOADS of styles, varying in quality and tastiness.

photo (29)All Ports have the following in common;

– They are from vinyeards in the Douro region in Portugal. Maturation usually is carried out in Porto or Nova de Gaia, towards the mouth of the Douro.

– They are fortified with Brandy, to about 19-22% ABV to stop fermentation of the wine. The wine therefore retains its sweetness.

–  Many producers still practice foot treading the grapes in the traditional ‘lagares’

– Red Ports are all made from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca.

– Vines must be at least 5 years old and yield is limited to 55 hl/ha.


The most common styles in a nutshell and a nice table to demonstrate the differences:

Styles Ruby Tawny
Characteristics Full and rich, deep red in colour (developing to a tawnier colour with age in the vintage ports). Quality increases through Ruby – LBV – Vintage. Rich Nuttier and lighter in style and colour.
Maturation Aged in bottle. Aged in oak ‘pipes’. Increased oxidation and bottled when ready to drink
Vintage/ NV Wine from a single vintage Non-vintage – Wine from a blend of vintages (with the exception of Colheita)
 Types Ruby – Made to drink young after 2-3 years aging in bulk (steel, cement or wood). Powerful and fruity. (Reserve is better quality)

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) – 4-6 years aged in oak, then can age further in bottle. Good quality, depth and body.

Vintage – 2-3 years aged in oak, then aged in bottle for 10-50+ years.  Accounts for 1% of Port and is only made in ‘declared’ years of exceptional quality, with grapes harvested from that single year. This century, only 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2011 have been declared as vintage years.

Tannins soften with age, flavours develop to ripe fruit, chocolate and colour loses its ruby red to a browner colour.

Single Quinta Vintage – as above but not necessarily from a declared vintage. All grapes from a single wine estate (quinta).

Tawny – 2 years oak. Drink young.Aged Tawny (10 to 40 years)

Wines are a blend from different years, the age being an average length of time that the wines spent in oak.

Colheita – min 7 years in oak (Tawny from a single year)

Flavours of dried fruit, fig and prunes, spice, vanilla.

Not too much detail, based on my WSET Diploma revision notes, but enough to help understand the difference I hope? There are also other styles, such as Crusted, White and Rosé, but my nutshell didn’t extend to those this time.

My favourite? A nice Tawny 10 with some Comté, in front of the fire of course, will do just nicely 🙂

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