Fortify yourself with this warming wine. An excellent after-dinner drink, port is a wine that's both sweet and strong. Find out the best foods to pair with different styles of port -- and discover savory recipes that use port as a key flavor-building ingredient.
What is Port?
Port is wine that has been fortified with brandy during fermentation. The addition of high-alcohol brandy stops the fermentation process in its tracks, leaving a sweet wine that packs some power. Purely Portuguese, by law port must come from a specific region in Portugal, from grapes grown in steep, terraced vineyards along the Douro River. Incidentally, the word "port" is not a condensed version of "Portugal" but a reference to the port town Oporto, from which the wines are exported. What does it all portend? Deliciousness.
Why fortify it?
Port was built to last. In the early days of the wine trade, lengthy sea voyages often turned wines to vinegar. Adding brandy to the wines ensured a longer life.
Styles of Port
- Typically the least expensive type of port.
- Ruby ports are blends of wine from different vintages.
- Rubies are usually sold after spending two or three years in large wooden casks.
- They are not intended to be cellared.
- Rubies have warm, berry flavors and deep ruby color.
Food Pairing Suggestion: Enjoy Ruby ports with blue cheese, red cherries, and fresh berry desserts.
- The best tawny ports are labeled with some indication of their age--10, 20, 30 years old and so on (though this is an average age because they are blends of different vintages).
- Better tawny ports earn their amber color through long aging in wooden casks, which produces a smooth, soft character and nutty flavors.
Food Pairing Suggestion: Serve tawny port with chocolate, caramel, dried fruit, nuts (like walnuts and almonds), and aged Cheddar cheese.
- In years when the quality of grapes and the conditions in the vineyards are exceptional, grapes are set aside to make single-vintage port.
- Since few years are exceptional enough to pass muster, vintage port is a relative rarity.
- Vintage port is labeled with a particular year, unlike most ports which are blends of various vintages.
- Vintage port labels include both the vintage year and the year the wine was bottled.
- To reach their peak, vintage ports often require many additional years of aging in bottle.
Feeling spendy? Try one of these great vintages from the 20th century: '27, '45, '63, '70, '73, and '85. The 1990s saw several exceptional vintages, too, but these are widely considered too young to drink.
Food Pairing Suggestion: Try with blue cheese (Stilton is a classic pairing), chocolate desserts, and nuts (particularly walnuts and almonds).
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV):
- The letters "LBV" on a bottle stand for "Late Bottled Vintage."
- This designation means the wine is from a single vintage, from a good year but not necessarily one that earned a vintage designation.
- The label will show the year of the vintage and the year the wine was bottled.
- If the label says "traditional," the wine is unfiltered; decant "traditional" LBV's before drinking as there might be some sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Single Quinta Port:
Quinta means "vineyard" in Portuguese. Single quinta port is made from grapes of a single vineyard. They are made to be aged many years in bottle.
These are made with white rather than red grapes, which achieve an attractive golden hue after several years of aging in wooden casks. White ports run the gamut from super sweet to quite dry.
Cooking with Port
Port is a terrific ingredient for cooking. The alcohol helps build flavors in sauces and other preparations. Here are some top-rated savory and sweet dishes to try.
- Roast Pork with Blueberry Port Sauce
- French Onion Soup with Port Wine
- Flank Steak with a Port Wine Marinade
- Mushroom Port Wine Sauce
- Port Wine Chocolate Cake
- Chicken with Figs in a Port Wine Sauce
- Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon with Port Wine Sauce