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What Port to Choose and When

So, you’ve heard all about Port and it sounds fantastic, life-enhancing and a gift from nature, but which one to drink?

Sometimes the stuff we build to help make sense of life actually gets in the way of enjoying it. It is useful to categorise port by how it is made and aged but then the options can seem daunting.

What matters is how it is going to be enjoyed, not how it was made.

The reality is that you only really have to ask yourself 2 simple questions to get a good idea of what port style to choose. The next time you realise that there simply hasn’t been enough Port in your life recently, and that happens surprisingly often once you get to know Port, you need to ask yourself:

  1. What taste am I looking for?
  2. What is the occasion?

With taste, there are two basic style options; the ripe, fruity, easy-drinking, full bodied ‘Ruby’ style; or the nutty, figgy, spicy, lighter bodied, aged, ‘Tawny‘ style.

Within each of these there are options depending on how you intend to drink it and how special the moment is. This is a guide to styles and you are encouraged to explore different producers at different quality levels within them.

Port for Fun

Is this a daytime, pre-dinner fun drink with friends, maybe chilling at home, maybe even just watching TV? Maybe while travelling (Unstoppering a bottle of port on a long train ride is the fastest way to making new friends and great conversation … but bring cups)? If you prefer the fruity style, then this moment calls for a Ruby, possibly chilled from the fridge – unpretentious, young and exuberant it brightens the day without overly lightening the wallet. For an aged style, look for Tawny (with no mention of age); a tasty treat for relaxed drinking without the need for too much attention.

Port with Dessert

Maybe you are drinking your port with a meal, to be served at the table, maybe with (or as) dessert, maybe even in special glasses? This convivial moment calls for a Ruby Reserve, maybe an “LBV” or for the truly adventurous, a “Crusted” Port. Like the Ruby, these are full bodied and rich, but these have many more layers of taste to explore that will develop over the evening. Great with cheeses and chocolate desserts.

If you are looking for something more delicate, this is the moment for aged Tawny, blends with maybe 10 or even 20 years maturing in barrel, that truly grace the table with their exotic dried fruit, spice and caramel.

All about the Port

If this moment is all about the Port, in comfortable contemplation with the people you love the most (which could be just yourself), then this calls for the ceremony of a vintage port.

‘Vintage’ actually comes in different guises as LBV, Colheita or the actual ‘Vintage‘, all of which reflect the fact they are wines from a single year and very often made to age well in bottle. However, just because the DO age well, does not mean they have to – and if you want an explosion of fruit passion, then just open the bottles while young, maybe 5-10 years old. These are lush, silky but concentrated because they are unfiltered, but they are still delicious, though consume with moderation – their tannins can bite back!

However, for the patient, and those with means, there’s fabulous 30 or even 40 year old Tawnies, or the ultimate expression of aged port: an older Vintage or Colheita. These wines deserve almost meditative contemplation, analysing what each sniff and sip evoke in you. These are diva wines, demanding the whole stage, the spotlight, your undivided attention and your love. They’re worth it.

Cheers,

Robert McIntosh