Port is a fortified sweet red wine that is considered the sweetest of any type of red wine. (It should also be noted that Port can be dry and white, so one must take care to read the labels!) As a fortified wine, brandy has been added to the Port during the fermentation process, resulting in a higher alcohol content – around 17 – 20%. This process of adding brandy to wine began when ship crews on long voyages of several months, or more, found that the addition of alcohol to their wine barrels prevented the wine from going bad. The process continues today, though not for the same reasons. Today, Port is matured in either sealed glass bottles, or wooden barrels.
Port originated in Portugal and the grapes are from the Douro Valley. The wine takes its name from the Portuguese city from which it was shipped – Porto. While many would consider the only true Port to come from Portugal (just as the only true champagne comes from France), it is also made in America, Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa.
Sweet red Port is generally viewed as a dessert wine, but it can also be served as an aperitif, or as an after dinner drink. Due to its high alcohol content, the Portuguese serve Port in very small four-ounce wine glasses. Then, they only fill the glass halfway!
There are three styles of sweet red Port: Ruby Port, Tawny Port, and Vintage Port. Ruby Port is, as its name suggests, a deep, rich red color. It does not need to be decanted and is served best at room temperature. As a dessert wine, Ruby Port pairs well with fruity desserts, or rich, creamy desserts.
Tawny Port is a lighter color that Ruby Port with categories of ten, twenty, thirty, and over forty years. Tawny Port does not need to be decanted and can be served at room temperature, or slightly cooler. It may be served after dinner, or with desserts. Fruity desserts, rich and creamy desserts, or milk chocolate are excellent compliments to Tawny Port.
Vintage Port tends to be the lightest in color due to the length of aging. It represents only 2% of all Port produced and in Portugal, a “vintage” year is declared about every three to five years. Vintage Port is considered to be the very best. It does need to be decanted by using a small funnel with a strainer. It should be served at room temperature as an after dinner drink, or with the dessert as a dessert wine. It pairs well with fruity desserts, rich and creamy desserts, or dark chocolate.