The word port can conjure up a stereotypical image of a viscous, alcoholic, sweet wine. Whilst this may be its most popular incarnation, there are in fact many different styles and quality levels. Produced from grapes grown in the Douro Valley in Portugal, fermentation is halted by the addition of brandy which leaves the important residual sugar.
Although typically a very sweet wine, off-dry, dry and white styles are also made. We have listed the most popular styles below.
Aged in wood for a significant period of time so that the oak absorbs much of the colour, turning it a golden brown and imparting a distinct nutty character. Indications of age are often shown on the label as 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years old.
A Tawny port from a single vintage. However, they should not be mistaken with Vintage port (see below); whereas a Vintage port will have been bottled about 18 months after being harvested and will continue to mature, a Colheita may have spent 20 or more years in wooden barrels before being bottled and sold, at which point it will no longer mature. A number of White Colheitas have been produced, such as one by Dalva in 1952.
An unusual and rare intermediate vintage-dated style of Port made from the grapes of a single harvest that combines both the oxidative maturation of years in wood, with further reductive maturation in large glass demijohns. It is required by the IVDP that wines spend some time in wood, usually between three and six years, followed by at least a further eight years in glass, before bottling. In practice the time spent in glass is much longer. At present, only one company, Niepoort, markets Garrafeiras.
The most expensive style which is made only in exceptional years, when the grapes have achieved near perfect ripeness. Vintage port is declared two years after the harvest, when the wines have had time to see some barrel ageing and further tasting determines whether it will be a vintage year. The wine is blended, bottled and requires many years ageing before being ready to drink.
Single vineyards or wineries which produce their own port rather than sell to a bigger merchant. Made in much the same way as vintage port, single quintas tend to be produced in very good but not vintage quality years.
A creation by the Symington group designed to appeal to those who enjoy Vintage Port. As its name suggests, a heavy deposit is thrown and decanting is required. It is a blend from several years and will continue to age in bottle.
LBV (Late Bottle Vintage)
Port from a single year which has been bottled between four to six years after the vintage. The best examples share many of the same characteristics as vintage port but do not require the same long term ageing. LBV can offer a much cheaper alternative to vintage port.
A simple and usually inexpensive style which is blend of wines across several years. It is bottled young to retain its deep ruby colour and uncomplicated fruit aromas.
Reserve port is a premium Ruby port approved by the IVDP's tasting panel, the Câmara de Provadores. In 2002, the IVDP prohibited the use of the term "Vintage Character", as the wine had neither attribute.
Pink port is a relatively new variation on the market, first released in 2008 by both Croft and the Taylor Fladgate Partnership. It is made with the same grapes and according to the same extremely strict rules that govern the production of vintage and tawny and ruby ports. It is technically a ruby port, but fermented the way a rosé wine would be, with a limited exposure to the grape skins, thus the pink colour. Bearing the hallmarks of a light ruby with its taste being lighter in style and containing a fruity flavour, it is commonly served cold in various ways.
Made, from white grape varieties (Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho, and Viosinho) and wood-matured, these ports are often a golden colour and can be either dry or sweet. White ports are normally non-vintage and sold at around three years' of age.