Port wine is like the nectar of the gods.
With its full bodied mouth-feel and sweet, rich flavors, it is the perfect after-dinner drink. I recently uncorked a bottle of Tawny Port from Orfila Winery in Escondido, California and was highly impressed with their take on this lovely dessert wine.
Stories of Port wine go back as far as the late 16th century in the Duoro Valley of Portugal, where Port is still grown and produced today. Port is named after the coastal city of “Porto” where the wine was originally exported. Laws today protect the origin of this wine so that only the product from Portugal can be labeled as Port. Wines that undergo the same process as Port wines are often be labeled “dessert wine” instead.
How It’s Made:
Orfila Winery’s Tawny Port is extremely aromatic with unmistakable scents of raisin and spice taking center-stage while hints of caramel and orange linger on the palette as an after-thought. A friend of mine referred to it as “raisin-flavored cough syrup,” which isn’t entirely off base!
Because Port is a fortified wine it’s extremely sweet and syrupy. Fortified wines undergo a different process than most where grape-derived spirits like brandy are added to the partially-fermented grape juice to kill off the yeast and halt fermentation before all of the sugar converts to alcohol. This creates a wine that is sugary and several times higher in alcohol content than most at 19.5-20% abv.
Unlike other single varietal wines, Port is made with a blend of different red and black grape varietals. Not all Port is made alike, however—there are also dry and semi-dry versions, and occasionally you may run across a white Port.
Styles of Port:
Ruby Port—Named for its deep red color, Ruby Port is young, fruity and undergoes two to three years of aging before it’s bottled.
Reserve Ruby Port—This is a higher quality Port with more intense fruit flavors and a longer period of aging before bottling, generally five years.
Late Bottled Vintage Port—Similar to a Reserve Ruby Port, LBV Ports are made from grapes harvested in a single year and undergo four to six years of aging before bottling. It’s best enjoyed while it’s young.
Traditional Style LBV—This traditional style is made much the same way as LBV, except that the wine is not filtered before bottling, leaving behind a deposit that requires decanting.
Vintage Port—Vintage Port is the crème de la crème when it comes to Port. It uses grapes from the very best vineyards during years when harvest is exceptional. With a short period in oak, this wine benefits from several years of bottle aging and requires decanting.
Tawny Port—An inexpensive Port made from a blend of light-colored ruby and white Port, it brings to mind flavors of toffee nut, caramel, and dried fruit.
Reserve Tawny Port—Light brown in color with flavors of nut, coffee, chocolate, and caramel, these wines require a minimum of seven years in oak.
Aged Tawny Port—A high quality blend of wines labeled with 10, 20, 30, or 40+ years of aging, Aged Tawny Port does not require decanting and is best enjoyed slightly chilled.
Food and Wine Pairings:
It’s important to consider what foods pair best with Port wine. You can drink Port solo, but it’s particularly refreshing when served alongside chocolate desserts, fresh fruits, puddings, and cheeses.
Stilton cheese is to Port wine what jelly is to peanut butter: a classic pairing that should not be missed out on. Stilton cheese comes from the blue cheese family. I decided to go with Trader Joe’s White Stilton With Apricots because I thought the sweetness of the fruit would pair nicely with the sweetness of wine, and I was right!
I also used some Brix Chocolate, a special type of dark chocolate made especially for wine. Both the cheese and the chocolate paired nicely with the Port and helped mellow out the tannins, making it more drinkable. For only $18 Orfila’s Tawny Port is definitely worth every penny.
Armed with your newfound knowledge of Port wine, now you’re ready to impress friends and family at your next dinner party! They may thank you for the wine 101 lesson, but more importantly you’ll enjoy wine’s ability to bring people together for an evening of fun and great conversation. And, on that note, I’ll leave you with the wise words of wine connoisseur Percy Croft, “Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.”