What is Port Wine?

What is Port Wine?

by Beth P Heiserman

Port is a Portuguese fortified wine which must be made in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It is generally consumed as a dessert wine, since it can be very sweet and decadent. There are several types of Port; red, white, rosé and an aged style called Tawny Port. Plus there are dry and semi-dry varieties. Fortified wines may be produced anywhere in the world, but only can be labeled “Port” from Portugal.

Ruby port is the inexpensive and most widely produced type of port. After fermentation, it is stored in tanks.  Some are aged in barrels for at least 4 years for a premium Ruby.  Aged tawny ports are wines that are aged in barrels that have gradual oxidation and some evaporation. Because of the oxidation, it is golden in color and tends to have nutty notes. This can be aged for 10 years, 20, 30 etc.

There is also a Colheita Port. It is a single-vintage wine fortified and aged in tawny style for at least seven years.  On the label, there will be a year that grapes were harvested instead of how many years it was aged.  On our Sweet Serenity label, it states it is a 2009 Muscat. Although we didn’t age it for seven years before bottling, it would be considered a Vintage Port.  Vintage Ports are aged for at least 18 months before bottling. We aged Sweet Serenity for four years before it was bottled. It has won a Gold medal & Best in Class in the 2014 Long Beach Grand Cru and a Bronze medal in the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Our 2009 Muscat dessert wine has been aged into an old-world style dessert wine and has just the right touch of wood. It has aromas of burnt caramel, dried apricots and candied ginger. Pairs well with soft cheeses after dinner or cinnamon sugared zeppolli.

After the wine is produced, it is then fortified with a neutral grape spirit or called aguardente. It is added to stop fermentation, leaving residual sugar and it increases the alcohol content. Neutral grape spirit is sometimes called brandy. It is different than what you purchase at a store. Brandy that is used in fortified wines has not been aged in barrels. Fortified wine is then aged in barrels.

In 1756, the Douro region was acknowledged as the third oldest official appellation.  The name was given from the seaport city of Porto where the Douro River pours into the Atlantic Ocean. Port became very popular in England after being permitted to import a low duty while at war with France, since French wine wasn’t being imported at that time. Thus, the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing to the consumer.

For many years, I was taught that Port came about from British sailors adding brandy to wine, so it wouldn’t spoil. Fortified wine already existed and they realized that since it would survive the trip, importers knew that it would be appealing to the sailors.

Our newest release is our 2014 White Delight. This limited edition dessert wine has a fruity aroma of peaches, honey and orange blossom. It is a blend of estate grown Chardonnay and Muscat briefly aged in French oak barrels. This wine has fruit and floral notes, and has a delightful balance of fruitiness and acidity. Enjoy with baked camembert with poached pears or butterscotch bread pudding. Best served chilled.