Port is a magnificent rich and long-lived dessert wine made from vines planted in along the craggy slopes and steep terraces of the Douro River Valley of Portugal.
Port is a lovely way to end a meal: It has about 20% alcohol compared to about 8-14% for dry table wines. It’s also low in acidity and tannin and therefore tastes smooth despite its high alcohol.
In the seventeenth century, when Britain was at war with France and could no longer buy its beloved Bordeaux wines, they turned to Portugal to fill their decanters. The Brits took the rustic Portuguese wine, added brandy to stop fermentation and to fortify it for the journey by ship. Thus, Port was born.
My reviews of these best value Port wines are updated weekly. These Port wines offer great taste at a good price. You'll find a definition of Port at the bottom of this page as well as food pairings for Port in my wine matcher. This is just a sampling of my reviews, but you can get all of them when you join my wine community.
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Today, Port is still made this way. Before all the natural grape sugars have been completely fermented into alcohol, high-proof brandy is added to the tanks to stop fermentation. This results in a fortified wine that has incredible depth and intense fruit flavors.
The wine is made from a variety of hardy grapes that produce intense aromas. Among the best are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.
There are nine types of Port that vary in quality, complexity and oak aging.
Ruby Ports are the youngest style, with the light ruby-red color and vibrant red fruit aromas. They’re aged for two to three years in stainless steel or barrels before bottling. Ruby Ports are the simplest and cheapest style, and can be harsh if not well made.
White Ports are made in both dry and sweet styles from white grapes. They have a lovely floral character and only 16.5%, so they appeal to those who want a lighter style of Port as well as those who’d like to drink them as an aperitif. White Ports weren’t introduced until 1934 when Taylor’s made the first one.
Tawny Ports age from three to forty years in large oak casks called pipes that are stored in temperature-controlled lodges. They lose their fresh fruit aromas and take on a nutty, toffee character with notes of figs, caramel, hazelnuts and almonds. They also turn a lovely pale amber from the extended wood contact. Tawny Ports may be labeled as 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and 40 years, depending on how long they were aged in wood. The best deals are the 20-year-olds (that’s Port, not people). They have a velvety-smooth texture and layers of flavors with a long finish.
Colheita Port is a tawny Port with grapes harvested from just one year rather than several years, and therefore it has that vintage date on its label. The wine is then aged seven years or more in oak before bottling. Colheitas account for less than 0.5% of all Ports, making them a rare treat. It, too, has gorgeously nutty, toffee aromas. The wine should be consumed within a year of the date on the label.
Vintage Ports, considered the king of Ports, are only made in exceptionally good years when a vintage is declared by the Port wine council (often only three to four years per decade) and account for just 5% of production. They’re bottled after two to three years of aging in barrels and as a result are deep red-purple color. They have grapey, dark, dried fruit aromas. They also have toasted aromas of chocolate, mocha, cocoa, coffee, tobacco and cigar box as well as spice notes such as cinnamon and pepper. They require at least ten years of bottle aging to smooth out and mature into complexity, but the great vintage Ports age for decades. Vintage Ports have a white mark on the side of the bottle that should be kept facing up during cellar storage.
Ports sealed with plastic corks should be stored upright so that the high alcohol of the wine doesn’t erode the plastic. Since they’re not filtered before bottling, decanting is recommended.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports are also made from grapes grown in one year and from one vineyard. They’re bottled after four to six years of oak aging and filtering.
A single-quinta Port comes from a single vineyard and may be either a tawny or vintage style. They’re usually made in years that are not declared for vintage Ports. They can be consumed young or aged. Decant before serving.
Wood Ports are aged in barrels for their entire lives and not bottled until they’re ready to be consumed. They’re extremely rare and expensive.
Crusted Ports, named for the sediment at the bottom of their bottles, aren’t filtered before bottling. They’re blended from several years, mature in the bottle and are ready to drink after three years. Decant them before serving.
Australia, South Africa, U.S. and Canada all make Port-style wines, although only those from Portugal may be called Port. This is like the fact that only Champagne from that region in France may be called as such; bubbly from other regions and countries is sparkling wine.
Except for White Port, drink all other styles with dessert or on its own after dinner. Serve at room temperature to release the aromas.
For Ports needing decanting, stand them upright for a day, first, to settle their sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
The lovely tradition of passing the decanter of Port around the dinner table clockwise, with each person pouring a glass of a few ounces, symbolizes the passing of time. In doing so, you also apparently avoid angering the devil who lurks over your left shoulder.
Port is magnificent with most cheeses, especially hard ones like cheddar and Parmigianino, as well as blues like Roquefort and Stilton. Pair them with nuts, chicken with dates, baked apples, chocolate and caramel desserts, cakes, pies and chocolate chip cookies.
© 2014 by Natalie MacLean. All rights reserved.