Introduction to Port Wine
Port wine, or "Porto", is a sweet wine, almost always red, that is fortified with brandy so that its' alcohol level is around 20%. Port wine is made in the Douro region of Portugal from a wide array of grape varieties. Over 100 varieties of grape are allowed in the making of port, but in practice, five varieties are most commonly used, those being Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.
The basic process for making port is that neutral grape spirit known as Aguardente (sometimes referred to as brandy) is added to fermenting grapes. The high alcohol level of the brandy stops the fermentation process leaving a sweet wine with substantial alcohol content. There are many different types of Port. The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IDVP) lists the following categories of Port wine.
A Ruby Port is young Port (by Port standards) made from a blend of wines that have been aged in wood barrels for about 3 years and then bottled. It is ready to drink upon release and is a sweet wine with an intense ruby color from which it derives its' name. These are simple, straight forward Ports with fresh, dark fruit characteristics.
Tawny Ports are also made of blends of wine aged in barrels. The difference is that the blend is made up of older wines than are used for Ruby Port. There are several categories in this style: Tawny, Tawny Reserve, Tawny with an indication of age (10, 20, 30, or 40 years), and Colheita (in essence, a Tawny Port made from the grapes of a single year's harvest). The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto recommends Tawny Ports with an indication of age or a Colheita. Tawny Ports are sweet to medium dry, and have a golden brown color.
Vintage Port is the epitome or Port. It is the highest standard that Port can attain. Vintage Ports are made from the grapes of a single vintage (year). Vintage Port is not made every year with a vintage only being "declared" in years when the grapes/wine are deemed to be of exceptional quality. For this reason Vintage Port only accounts for about 2% of all Port production.
Vintage Port is is bottled 2 to 3 years after the vintage to age in the bottle. It can age for 10 to 50 years or more and takes on different characteristics during its life span. When young, the port has an intense ruby red color, strong aromas and flavors of red fruit and berries, and strong tannins. With age the tannins soften, the color fades to garnet and then to a golden brown, and sediment is deposited. As Vintage Port ages, it becomes much more complex and nuanced with much less of the mouth-popping exuberance of its youth.
It is very typical to wait 10 to 20 years before drinking a vintage port.
Vintage Port must say "Vintage Port" on its' label with no other words surrounding it. The label will also state the year of the vintage.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
Single Quinta Vintage Port is a Vintage Port that is made from the grapes of a single vineyard or quinta.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port
Late Bottled Vintage Port is a port from a single vintage that is aged for 4 to 6 years in barrels and then bottled. It is often times heavily filtered and is typically ready to drink upon release. Some will age in the bottle and throw some sediment, but these should not be mistaken for Vintage Port. Although LBV Port should not be mistaken for Vintage Port, it can be of very high quality.
Late Bottle Vintage Port is a deep ruby red color with a full body of lush, ripe red fruit and berries.
Not very common, but some Port is made as White Port. It can be designated Reserve or have an indication of age (10, 20, 30, or 40 years) as long as Port wine regulations are met. It can range from dry to very sweet.