It's easy to remember where Port comes from - it comes from Portugal, of course. But Port is not a time honored traditional wine of the Portugues - it was invented by the British. Since Britain was always at war with France, they ended up purchasing wine from Portugal. To make sure the wine was stable enough to make it from Portugal to England, they fortified the wine with brandy and voila - Port was invented. The first Port house was opened by the British in 1670.
While Port comes from the city of Oporto, which is on the sea, the grapes are actually grown inland in the Douro Valley. The wine is also fermented and fortified there, and then sent to Oporto where it is finished and matured. There is no particular grape for Port, and it may be made from any of 80 different varieties. There are may imposter Ports from other parts of the world--the way to tell whether a Port is authentically from Portugal is to look for the word "porto" on the label.
There are several styles of Port, but unless you get seriously into Port you will probably only come into contact with a few. The most common styles of Port are:
- Ruby Port: Ruby Port is the best-selling type of Port. It is only aged for three years and is low cost, maybe around $12 per bottle. Some ruby port, labeled "Reserve" or "Special Reserve" is aged for six years and costs a small amount more.
- Tawny Port: Tawny Port is aged between 10 and 40 years. It gets its name from the fact that the wine fades in color during the aging to a pale or brownish red. Ten and twenty year old tawnies are only $30-$50 and are a good value for someone looking for a quality Port. A tawny port is best enjoyed before dinner as an aperitif or after dinner as a dessert wine.
- Colheita Port: Colheita is vintage dated, but is not Vintage Port. Colheita is actually tawny Port that comes from a single vintage. Niepoort (pictured above) specializes in colheita. If you can find it for a decent price it's a nice buy, but you probably wouldn't want to pay more if you can get a good tawny.
- Vintage Port: Vintage Port is the premium Port. It is the wine of a single year blended from the house's best vineyards. The wine is bottled at two years and then aged in the bottle for at least 20 years. Vintage Port contains a lot of sediment and absolutely mst be decanted first, so bear that in mind before opening one. It can be aged in the bottle for up to 70 years. The best way to get a Vintage Port is to purchase it when first released, and then let it age for many years before drinking. The price only gets higher the more mature a bottle gets. So if you buy a whole bunch now, you should have some great Port to drink when you are all old and retired! Sweet!
When shopping for Port, you can't go wrong with the following: Taylor-Fladgate, Fonseca, Niepoort, and Sandeman. Alternatively, just look for that "porto" label. If it's a true Port from Portugal, then it's probably worth buying.