Port - A Buyer's Guide
Whether it's for the Christmas cheese board or an aperitivo on a summer's evening, there's a Port out there for everyone. Here's our buyer's guide to this delicious tipple
'One of Portugal's best-kept secrets'
White Port is a fortified wine (like its red counterpart) made from white grapes with catchy names such as Viosinho, Malvasia Fina, Codega and Rabigato. It's full of flavours of orange blossom, apricot, baked apple and zingy citrus.
White Port is great on its own, served over ice, or as a long drink as a rival to gin and tonic. Fill a hi-ball glass with ice and a couple of lemon slices and some well-spanked mint. Fill the glass up to about a third with white Port and then top up with Mediterranean or Indian tonic and serve with Perello olives on the side.
'This one is the best "lunchtime" Port'
Unlike Vintage Ports, which are aged for just two years in large barrels before being bottled (with the rest of their aging being done in the cellar in bottle), Tawny Ports are aged for much longer in small barrels and are intended for drinking as soon as they leave the producer. While aging in barrel the wine loses its colour and fades to a tawny brown (hence the name) and develops mellow, nutty dried fruit and caramel flavours. If a wine is labelled 10/20/30 years old that is the average age of the wines in the blend. Tawny Ports can. however. be the product of a single year and have a vintage on the bottle at which point they are known as a “colheita” Port.
Port producers themselves often opt to drink a gently chilled tawny after lunch in the heat of the Douro, and we recommend serving it slightly chilled at 10C - 14C. There's no need to decant and it will keep for over a month, and sometimes up to four months, once opened.
We love: Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Or why not browse our whole range of Tawny Ports?
LBV (Late Bottled Vintage)
'A fruity, vintage style, similar to vintage Ports'
When is a vintage port not a vintage port? When it says Late Bottled Vintage on the label! Yes, it's confusing and arguably deliberately so (see the paragraph on vintage Ports, below). But in a nutshell. LBVs are a vintage-style wine at a fraction of the cost of true Vintage Ports.
Late Bottled Vintage means just what it says on the label: wine from a single year that’s bottled between four and six years after the vintage. It’s produced in much larger volumes than either classic vintage or single-quinta vintage (again, see below) and is filtered pre-bottling. This filtration makes life easier in that you don’t need to decant. However, it's the filtered-out sediment that helps Port age, so filtered LBVs don’t have the lifespan of vintage port.
We recommend serving at 16C – 18C. There's no need to decant and it will age for a maximum of 15 years post vintage. Once opened, it'll keep for two to three weeks happily in the bottle
Single Quinta Port
'Vintage Port's little brother'
With huge improvements in winemaking from the 1980s onwards, the production of a good Vintage Port (again, see below) is much less of a hit-and-miss affair. Unless the year is a total washout (eg 1993 and 2002), wines of potential vintage quality can be made every year, however the Port houses follow tradition and can't declare every vintage a capital-V Vintage. Consequently, wines from good years (ie in between declared Vintages) are bottled by the major shippers as Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP).
The same rules apply as to Vintage Ports, the only difference being that the wines come from a single quinta, or estate, rather than being a blend of wines from up and down the Douro valley.
We recommend serving them at room temperature, between 15C and 20C and treating it like a red wine once open - ie only keep it for two to four days once decanted. Decanting times depend on age - three hours for older wines and around five hours for younger ones. Be wary of the corks on older bottles too - we suggest using a butler's thief opener for bottles over 10 years old.
And remember to use a butler's thief for the older bottles!
'The King of Ports'
Seen by many as the pinnacle of the Port pyramid. Many shippers have built (and occasionally destroyed) their international reputation on the back of Vintage Port. The skill in making a great Vintage Port comes from the strict selection of small lotes (parcels) of wine from the very finest locations, made from grapes picked at optimum ripeness after an outstanding growing season, followed by judicious blending. These grapes need to be very well worked during vinification, either foot-trodden in traditional stone lagares or increasingly subject to careful piston extraction or robotic treading.
After the harvest these wines are monitored for a potential Vintage. The decision to ‘declare’ a Vintage is made independently by the shipper and it is not one that is taken lightly. There is no law about the regularity of Port vintages but there are usually three or four a decade and the producers/shippers are wary of declaring any more than that.
We suggest serving at 16C -17C and always decant Vintage Port. Ports younger than 30 years old can be decanted up to three hours before serving, but for anything older than that be wary of decanting for any longer than thirty minutes as they are prone to oxidisation. Once decanted, the younger ones will keep for between two to four days. We recommend using a butler's thief wine opener for older corks as it will stop the cork from crumbling into the bottle, and we always use a decanting funnel with a filter as there will often be unpalatable sediment, especially in older bottles.
We love: Dow's Vintage Port 1994, Graham's Vintage Port 2017, Taylor's Vintage Port 2009, Croft Vintage Port 2003, Warre's 2020 Vinhas Velhas 350th Anniversary Gift Case and Graham's 2020 Bicentenary Edition Vintage Port Gift Case
And don't forget the decanting funnel with filter for the older Ports!