tips and tricks to help you better understand port wine

If you’re a wine and spirits enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of whiskey, rum, tequila, and vodka, but how much do you know about port? This fortified wine from Porto in Portugal's Douro Valley has a long history and unique characteristics, making it a must-try for any spirit connoisseur. 

I confess, aside from being a fan of "port style wines" that I have tried from some of my favorite California wineries like Quady's Starboard, I hadn't really been exposed to true, authentic port wines until Sandeman contacted me and offered me a chance to try some of theirs.

Sandeman is a renowned and historic brand in the port industry. For over 225 years, Sandeman has been producing some of the world's finest ports and the brand's legacy as a leading producer is remarkable. They also embrace the worlds of art and tourism by inviting visitors to their winery in Porto for a chance to experience the winemaking process firsthand.

Featured Expressions From Sandeman:

Sandeman 10-year-old Tawny Port is a medium-bodied port with a golden mahogany color and a nutty aroma of almonds and hazelnuts. On the palate, it has a fruity taste with hints of vanilla and caramel. This port pairs well with hard cheeses and chocolate desserts.

Sandeman 20-year-old Tawny Port is a full-bodied port with a deep amber color. It has a complex aroma of dried fruits, spices, and honey. On the palate, it has a rich and velvety taste with a lingering finish. This port pairs well with roasted nuts and mature cheeses.

Sandeman Ruby Port is a young and vibrant port with a vibrant ruby color. It has a fruity aroma of red berries and plums. On the palate, it has a sweet and juicy taste with a touch of spice. This port pairs perfectly with dark chocolate and blue cheese.

Sandeman Late Bottled Vintage Port is a rich and powerful port with a deep ruby color. It has an intense aroma of dark fruits, spices, and chocolate. On the palate, it has a full-bodied taste with a long and complex finish. This port pairs well with rich chocolate desserts and strong cheeses.

Overall, Sandeman Ports are perfect for anyone looking for a high-quality and authentic port experience. The brand's rich history, attention to detail, and commitment to quality make Sandeman a must-try for any port lover. Sandeman Ports are widely available, and you can find them in most wine shops and online stores. Trust me, you won't be disappointed with Sandeman.

Is Port A Wine Or A Spirit?

Port is a fortified wine. It is natively known as, "Vinho do Porto" and in English as "Port Wine", though most people simply refer to it as "Port". This can sometimes be confusing for uninitiated wine and spirits enthusiasts since it is sometimes referred to as a spirit. However, the best way to understand Port is to consider it a wine with a grape spirit. This halts the fermentation, increases the overall alcohol content, and creates a unique expression that has been popular for hundreds of years.

History and Making of Port

Port was first produced in the 17th century in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Later, in 1756, it became the first place in Europe to be defined as a unique production area for this fortified wine. Just as how Champaign must come from a specific region in France and be produced in a certain way, the same is true for Port. It is made by adding grape spirit to wine during fermentation, which halts the process and leaves residual sweetness. This process results in a wine that is higher in alcohol (typically around 20%) and has a sweet and rich flavor. Along with the obvious benefits of making a stronger alcoholic drink that is also much sweeter, fortified wines also last longer. 

Types Of Port Wine:

There are several types of port that vary in style and aging process. Tawny port is aged in barrels and has a smooth, nutty flavor, while ruby port is young and fruity. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) port is only aged for a few years and has a richer, fuller taste, while Vintage port is aged for longer and has a complex and intense flavor.

Vintage Port

Vintage port is the most coveted and expensive port wine. It is made from grapes grown in a single year and is aged in barrels for only two years before being bottled. Once bottled, vintage port is meant to age for many years to reach its full potential. The longer it ages, the more complex and rich it becomes. Vintage ports are full-bodied, fruity, and have a high tannin content, making them great for pairing with strong cheeses or dark chocolate.

Tawny Port

Tawny port is aged in barrels for many years, gaining a nutty and caramel-like flavor profile. The longer it is aged, the lighter in color it becomes. Tawny port is ideal for pairing with desserts like crème brûlée or apple tart, as well as blue cheeses.

Ruby Port

Ruby port is aged for a shorter period of time in large barrels, retaining its deep ruby color and bold flavor. It is a full-bodied wine with a fruity taste and is often paired with chocolate desserts.

White Port

White port is aged in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels for a short period of time, giving it a lighter color and a dry, slightly nutty taste. It is an ideal aperitif wine that can be paired with appetizers or salads.

Overall, port wines are a versatile and delightful addition to any wine enthusiast's collection. To ensure maximum enjoyment, store your port bottles in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. And don't hesitate to try different types of port – you never know which one will become your new favorite.

Features of Port

Port wine has a unique taste that combines sweetness, acidity, and tannins. It has a rich, full-bodied texture and a distinct aroma of berries, nuts, and spices. The aging process of port adds complexity and depth to its flavor profile. It is often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink, but it can also be used in cocktails and paired with various types of food.

Proper Tasting Tequnique To Fully Appreciate Port Wine

Tasting and appreciating port wine is a unique experience that requires the right environment and technique. To begin, it's important to make sure you have the appropriate glassware and temperature. Port wine should be served in a tulip-shaped glass with a wide bowl and narrow rim, as this will allow for proper aeration of the wine. The ideal serving temperature for port is between 55-60°F (13-16°C).

When it comes to tasting port, start by using your sense of smell to identify the aroma. Swirl the wine gently in the glass to release its vapors, then bring your nose close to the rim of the glass and take a few short breaths through your nose. This will allow you to detect subtle notes of fruit, spice, wood or other aromas present in the port.

Next, take a sip of port into your mouth but don't swallow yet. Take time to analyze its mouthfeel - is it light or full-bodied? Are there any tannins present? Then move on to tasting it properly - roll it around on your tongue before swallowing so that you can appreciate its flavor profile fully. Note any flavors such as cherry or plum that you may detect as well as its sweetness level. Finally, pay attention to how long its finish lasts after swallowing - does it linger on your palate for a while or dissipate quickly?

Innovative Port Cocktails

Port is a versatile spirit that can be incorporated into many types of cocktails. It pairs well with various types of cheese, especially blue and aged cheddar. It also goes well with chocolate desserts, dried fruits, and nuts.

Here are some popular port cocktails to try:

  • Port and Tonic: A refreshing mix of port, tonic water, and lime.
  • Port Manhattan: A spin on the classic Manhattan with port instead of whiskey.
  • Port Sangria: A fruity and refreshing beverage made with port, red wine, and fruit.
  • Port Old Fashioned: A twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail with port instead of whiskey.

Next time you’re looking for something new to try, consider reaching for a bottle of port. Not only does it offer a unique and complex flavor profile that would make it an excellent addition to any liquor cabinet but the heritage and culture that you can explore while sipping it makes for a great way to travel virtually through your mind's eye.