Port, it’s what’s for (after) dinner.
Port is more than a style of winemaking, but a winemaking classification established in 1756—making it the oldest officially regulated wine in the world. It is a fortified, often sweet, after dinner drink, grown and produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Its origin is less than romantic than other wines, insomuch that it was the result of England’s trade restrictions with France—and the challenges of shipping wine—rather than a local tradition. But over time, Port has defined its own tradition and can be the most exquisite way to end a long meal—especially when dining in England, where the beverage has the widest appeal. Like Sherry, we here at PJ’s feel that Port is a bit unloved on our shores, and we are here to defend it.
So, what are the different styles of Port?
The most basic of all the Ports. Made from young vines, multiple vintages, and aged in bulk for about three years. These aren’t wines to lie down, but to be enjoyed right away on those cold winter nights when you don’t need something so fancy, yet still crave Port’s sweet, warming nature.
Unlike Rubies, Tawny means (or at least should mean) that the grapes have been aged in wood, thus giving them their brownish rather than reddish tint. Not all “Tawnys” have been aged, and the wine consumer should look more to the producer than the style. Further confusion can come from the number of years stamped on the bottle, which refer to how long the wine should be aged rather than the actual time it has already spent in the bottle.
A vintage specific Tawny.
Wait, isn’t Colheita a vintage port? Yes and no. While it is true that Colheitas come from a specific year, the term “Vintage Port” is a special category that refers to a very rare, and infrequently produced style. It comes from special grapes, in special years, and requires the producer’s official blessing after the wine has been aged for three years. Upon this “reflection” the producer can then declare that his port is “Vintage” and that it should be cellared for some thirty plus years, whereas Colheitas should be consumed young. “Vintage” ports can be thick, and intense, and require decanting because of the sediment.
Late Bottle Vintages
These are ports that were originally destined to become “Vintage” ports, but were not quite up the extreme high standards that allow a port to be of “Vintage” classification (there are typically only 2-3 of these per decade). There are two styles of Late Bottle Vintages (often abbreviated on the bottle as LBV): filtered and unfiltered. The unfiltered style is generally considered more desirable, but requires decanting, and thus quick consumption whereas the filtered version can be resealed and enjoyed over a longer period. The quality here is considered close to those classified as “Vintage”, but ready for much younger consumption.
Despite the unappealing named, there is nothing “crusty” about these wines, except for the sediment, which is the inspiration for its awkward moniker. In short, these are multi-vintage, multi-vineyard Ports that offer the pleasure of Vintage and LBV Ports at a fraction of the cost. A Port Geek’s Port.
The word “Garrafeira” means “private cellar” and was a term originally coined by the Port producer, Niepoort. The name refers to a single vintage port that has undergone additional aging in glass demi-johns (sometimes called carboys by us Yanks). Here the aging is often extensive, reaching up to 30-40 years, and the bottle will include the dates for harvest, transfer to demi-john, and bottling. This is the Port connoisseur’s Port.
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