PORT, a fortified wine similar to Marsala and Madeira, is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal.
Though typically red and sweet, port – taking its name from the city of Porto – also comes in dry, semi-dry, rose and white varieties.
Rich and sweet, it is also high in alcohol content due to the addition of neutral grape spirits, known as aguardente. This is done to halt fermentation, leaving residual sugar which boosts the alcohol level prior to storing and ageing in sealed glass bottles or barrels.
More than 100 varieties of grapes, all suitable for long-ageing wines, are sanctioned for port production, although only five – Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional – are widely cultivated.
The four main styles of port are:
Ruby: Bright red with full bodied fruitiness; the most extensively produced and generally does not improve with age.
Tawny: Sweet or medium dry, made from red grapes. Can be aged for years in wooden barrels and as a result of the oxidation gradually mellows to a golden-brown colour and gains a caramel, nutty flavour.
White: From white grapes, can go from dry to very sweet. When matured in wood for long periods the colour can darken substantially.
Rose: A new style made like rose wine, with flavours of strawberry and caramel.
Apart from white port, which can be served chilled, port should be served at around 16ºC.
Vintage ports need to breathe and require decanting. Once opened they are best consumed within a short period although aged types may keep for several months.