Velvety-rich port is the perfect ending to a dinner shared with
friends. Meant to be sipped and enjoyed slowly, it's often called
"the wine of philosophy."
Port is a sweet but complex fortified wine
that originated in Portugal about
300 years ago. It is named after Oporto ("Porto" to the locals), a
coastal Portuguese city at the center of the wine's trade.
is a specific region in the country's Douro Valley that has exacting
regulations for producing quality port wines. In other countries, port
is a generic term used to describe wines made in the image of the
There are four basic categories of port:
—The best and most expensive, these bottle-aged ports are made
of a single vintage, and only from the best "declared"
(considered superior) vintages. They must be bottled within two years
and the very best can age for up to 50 years.
—Ready to drink when bottled, these tawny-colored wines are made from a blend of grapes from several different years.
They can be aged as long as 40 years. Low-priced tawnies are usually
blends of white and ruby ports.
—Generally the least expensive, rubies are made from
lower-quality wines and aged in wood for about two years. Bottled when
young, they are fruity and bright red in color.
—These ports are made from white grapes
and the drier
versions go through longer periods of fermentation. Quite popular in
Europe, they can be difficult to find in the U.S.
Within the above four categories, there are numerous types, including:
Single Quinta Ports
—Essentially vintage ports made in nondeclared years, they are still considered excellent.
Second Label Vintage Ports
—These are produced when the vintage is quite good, but not quite good enough to be declared.
Late Bottled Vintage Ports
(LBV) and Colheita Ports
—These are made from single vintage grapes that aren't as high quality as those used for vintage.
—Made from a blend of two or three wines from different vintages, these are aged for three to four years before being bottled.
Vintage Character Ports
—Essentially high-quality ruby ports, these are made from several different vintages and
wood-aged. They are the lightest and fruitiest of all ports.
Centuries of tradition demand that port always be served to guests
in a clockwise fashion. The bottle or decanter is placed in front of
the host who first serves the guest on his right, then himself, and
then the guest on his left. The port is passed all the way around the
table to the left and is once again set in front of the host.
It's considered poor manners to ask for the decanter. So if by chance an errant guest fails to pass the port, the host
traditionally asks, "Do you know the Bishop of Winchester?" A guest
well-versed in port etiquette will know to pass the port along. If the
guest answers, "No," he or she is told, "He is an awfully good fellow –
but he never passes the port."
Port wines should be stored like all fine
red wines: in a cool, dark place with medium humidity and no great
temperature fluctuations. Vintage ports have driven corks and should b