How to Drink Port Wine? A Beginner’s Guide to Port
Port is one of the most famous dessert wines on the planet. Most of us have tried this rich, sweet wine a few times and found it to be absolutely delicious. It’s higher in alcohol, and more viscous than traditional red wines, which makes it the perfect option for sipping and relaxing at the end of a meal.
You may have tried the wine, but do you know how to drink port? Do you know how is port made? How about opening or decanting port? Do you know how long does port last once opened? All good questions, which we will answer below.
We will walk you through port wine, and we’ll teach you everything you need to know about this amazing fortified wine…
What is Port Wine?
Let’s start off with the most important question: “What is port wine?”
Port wine is a sweet, rich red wine made in Portugal. In fact, it’s only made in the Douro Valley. It is often called a ‘dessert wine’ due to its sweetness, but different styles can be drunk as aperitifs as well as after a meal.
What does Port taste like?
This will vary depending on the style, but all Port has a few common flavours. Generally, Port wine has strong berry flavours: raspberries, blackberries, and prunes.
However, some of the other common port flavours include:
- Dried fruits
As Port ages, there are an even wider array of flavours, including green peppercorn, hazelnut, figs, almond, and butterscotch.
What is the History of Port?
The history of Port dates back to the 17th century when England was at war with France. With French wines banned, and later highly taxed, wine merchants looked elsewhere. The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373 had established ‘friendships, unions alliances’, making Portugal an ideal target for the English wine trade.
Moving inland up the Douro river, these vinous explorers struck gold, finding rich, deeply-coloured wines. Brandy was added to the wine to make sure the wine survived the journey back to England. At one of the wine-making monasteries in the area, monks were adding brandy during fermentation, giving the sweet style of wine we know and love today.
In 1756 the production of port became regulated and demarcated, becoming one of the first wine regions with a legal boundary. This area, with its beautiful meandering river and steep, terraced slopes, is now a Unesco World Heritage site
The British still have a strong presence in Port production. The many famous family brand names have now largely been consolidated. Symingtons, still family-owned, and currently run by Johnny Symington, own Warre, Dow, Cockburn and Graham. The Fladgate Partnership own Croft, Fonseca and Taylor.
Pairing Port with Food
Port is great with stronger cheeses, such as Stilton. Richer cheeses, like washed-rind cheese or blue cheese, bring out the sweetness of the Port wine. The berry flavours will enhance the cheese flavours without overpowering it.
A small chunk of Stilton, a mince pie and a glass of Port is an unbeatable combination.
Another great way to pair Port with food is to serve it with smoked, salted, or roasted nuts. The nuttiness of port, particularly Tawny Port, makes for a gorgeous combination of flavours. Any desserts made with chocolate and caramel will be a good option for pairing with Port.
All About Port
People ask us, “What is Port made from? Surely it can’t be typical wine if it’s so strong!”
That much is true. When you look into how is Port made, you’ll find it’s the same as wine, except it has brandy added during fermentation. This gives it a higher alcohol content and more body. Brandy also stops the fermentation, ensuring the Port retains the grape’s natural sweetness.
Port uses a unique blend of grapes native to Portugal. There are up to 52 grape varieties used to make Port, with the most common being:
- Touriga Franca
- Touriga Nacional
- Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo)
- Tinta Barroca
- Tinta Cão
The addition of many varieties of grapes lends a wide variety of flavours to the Port. Some grapes bring berry flavours, while others have chocolate, fig, or cinnamon flavours.
Types of Port Wine
When you browse our list of organic Ports, you’ll see a few different types of Port: Reserve, Tawny and Vintage. Some producers even make white and pink versions now!
- White Port is usually a lighter type of port, made with white grapes. Common flavours include citrus peel, roasted nuts, baked apple, and apricot. There is less sweetness to this type of port, depending on the producer, and it isn’t aged for as long.
- Rosé Port has much stronger berry flavours: strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry sauce. It has a delicious jammy note that gives it more sweetness than white port, but it’s not as rich as a tawny or ruby port.
- Tawny Portgets its name and colour from extended ageing in wooden casks before bottling. It is a blend of many vintages, and is sometimes sold as 10, 20, 30 or 40 year old. It has mellow flavours of caramel, cloves, cinnamon, hazelnut, fig, and prune. Tawny port is ready to drink once bottled and does not improve over time.
- Ruby Port is the least expensive style, aged for two or three years in vat before bottling and sold ready to drink. Ruby port does not improve if kept in bottle.
- Reserve Port is the next step up from Ruby, and has deeper flavours of raspberries, blackberries, chocolate, and cinnamon. This is the type of wine you want to enjoy slowly. It is aged for at least three years before release.
- Vintage Port is usually the most expensive Port. It is made in tiny quantities from the best grapes, and only in the very best years. It is aged for two years before being released but can improve for decades in the bottle.
How to Drink Port
If you want to know how to drink port, you’ve come to the right place!
We recommend serving Tawny and Reserve Port at just below room temperature, around 10-16 C. This helps to bring out the sweetness and flavours of the dark red wine, without making the alcohol overpowering.
For Rosé and White Port, you want to go a bit colder: 4-10 C. These lighter ports are better enjoyed very cold. In Portugal White Port is often enjoyed with tonic as an aperitif.
With Port, you don’t need to take a big mouthful at a time. Those who want to know how to drink Port need to approach it like a fine brandy: with small sips. You want just enough that you get those delicious fruity and berry flavours.
It is best to serve Port in standard wine glasses. Port is often served in very small glasses, but a wine glass is much better at capturing and enhancing the aromas.
A full 750ml bottle could serve up to 10 people, which is why we offer half bottles of the Finest Reserve Port.
Take small sips, and make sure to savour each one!
Do you Need to Decant Port?
Only vintage Port and crusted Port need to be decanted before serving, but you can decant any Port if you wish. Why does Port need to be decanted? Vintage and crusted Ports need to be decanted because they have sediment in the bottle. This is not harmful to drink, just unpleasant. Any other Ports can be decanted if you want to release the aroma or add some theatre to the serving.
You don’t need to have a special decanter, any receptacle will do. Jugs, vases and milk bottles have all been used! You can rinse the original bottle with water and pour the port back into the bottle to serve if desired.
How do you Decant Port?
Simply stand the bottle upright for a day or two. This will move all the sediment to the bottom of the bottle. Open the bottle and pour slowly and steadily in one motion until you can see the sediment moving into the neck of the bottle. It may be useful to have a light source underneath the neck so you can see clearly. Traditionally, this is done with a candle, but a phone torchlight works just as well!
How Long Does Port Last?
Many people ask us: “How long does Port last once opened?” and “does Port go off quicker than other wines, due to its extra sugar and alcohol content?”
Most wines will go off within a few days of opening, but Port can last for much longer, depending on the style. Vintage Ports are best consumed within a few days, but Reserve and Tawny ports should last a few weeks in the fridge.
To keep your ports good for longer, store them in a cool, dark place. Use a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen from the bottle before re-corking—it will make the wine last longer!
The beauty of Port wine is that it can age much better than regular red wine. The best Vintage Ports can be aged for many decades in the bottle. Tawny and Reserve Ports will keep but can be drunk immediately, having been aged by the producer.
The ageing process softens the tannins. The rich, dark aromas of the fruits and berries will give way to dried fruit and nut flavours.
Cooking with Port Wine
Cooking with wine, and especially cooking with Port, is a great way to add rich, fruity flavours to your meals. With Port, you want to use it for sauces in savoury and sweet dishes. You can make rich, gooey chocolate sauces to serve with cake.
If you want to make a delicious red wine reduction to serve with rich dishes such as venison or a nut roast, Port makes an excellent alternative. The higher sugar content of port means it reduces into a thicker consistency than red wine. It’s a great way to bring depth and sweetness to meals. For cooking, Ruby or Reserve Port is your best choice.
Port is one of our favourite wines, and it’s definitely not just for Christmas! We’re pleased to offer a wide selection of organic Port wines.
We’ve looked through our list to find the ones we think you’d enjoy most. Here are our top three choices of the best port wine:
This is a Reserve Port with strong flavours of figs, fruitcake, and prunes. It’s ideal for cooking with or to sip at the end of a meal, or with cheese.
This organic Vintage Port from an outstanding year is rich, flavourful, and deep. The intense flavours of black fruits, ginger biscuits, cloves, dark chocolates, and nutmeg make this the perfect digestif. Delicious now, but will keep for many years.
Longer ageing in wood makes this port lighter than the two above, but it has soft, jammy flavours and a savoury note. It’s a full-bodied, but a very approachable port. It ages beautifully and makes for the perfect pairing with nuts.
This port has been wood-matured for an average of five years in the traditional 550 litre ‘pipes’. Great depth of rich, black fruit with liquorice and spice too. You can a lot of wine for your money here. Live like a king and enjoy a glass with a chunk of organic cheese and nuts.
Port is truly one of the most unique of the wines and one you’d do well to add to your wine cellar. Check out our full range of organic Ports to see what takes your fancy.
We’ve got something for every taste!