Port is one of the most glorious fortified wines in the world. One that is often left until the end of the meal and, sadly, often forgotten. With the quality and range of port available in New Zealand never as great as it is now, the time is nigh to jump on the band wagon and enjoy a port with tonic, chilled ruby port as an aperitif, a tawny port cocktail or, of course, a wonderful glass of fine port at the end of your meal.
So, what is the difference, what are all the styles and how do you pick the right port for the occasion?
Let’s start with what may seem glaringly obvious. Port comes from Portugal, specifically from around the town of Porto and the reaches of the Douro River Valley that meanders inland towards Spain.
Ruby Port is the starting point. These are wines that are brightly coloured, strong ports that have a fiery nature to them. This is the simplest form of port. Following rapid extraction of colour and tannins the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirit, thus fortifying the wine and retaining residual sugar. A very short maturation in port terms, these are then blended, filtered and bottled.
Tawny Port is the next cab off the rank. The name tawny referring to maturation in wood and the port turning a tawny colour. There are a wide range of styles, that can be very confusing. These are though ports that have been aged and, as such, are more mellow in nature than a ruby port. Aged Tawny Ports have statements such as 10 year, 20 year + on the labels, which are the approximate ages when tasted and approved.
Vintage Port makes up a very small percentage of total port produced (less than 1% in total), and is made from grapes from a single vintage, off the very best vineyards, then bottled after 2 – 3 years in wood. Not all years are declared a vintage. Only the best achieve this status. The declaration process takes place the second year after harvest. Unlike other styles of port, vintage ports require time in the bottle to mature. All other styles are released ready to enjoy.
Late Bottled Vintage Port, for me, is quite the treat. As the name suggests, it is late bottled, from a single year. The maturation then done before bottling, a late bottled vintage port is similar in style to a vintage port but bottled ready to enjoy.
White Port is a wonderful aperitif by itself, as well as being excellent with tonic or soda. Proceed exactly as you would with Gin or Vodka. White Port is made in the same way as Ruby Port, though without the skin contact and resulting colour. Most white ports are aged for 18 months in an inert vessel before bottling.
There’s a broad range of producers and styles in store right now. Three of my favourites are;
Quinta de la Rosa is relatively small in comparison to the others, and up until recently was run by Tim and Sophia Bergqvist. Sadly, Tim has passed away this year. A big loss for the family and the region as Tim was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Sophia continues the tradition at the house, that has been producing port for over 100 years. The style here is more in the mould of a fine wine, glorious and very highly rated ports.
The 300-year-old house of Quinta do Noval is synonymous with quality port. One of the oldest, and arguably the greatest, of all the port houses, Quinta do Noval is a state of the art winery, producing wines displaying an incredible delicacy and elegance, and they are unique in that their glorious Vintage Nacional is one of the world’s rarest and highly prized ports.
Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port Houses, with history dating back to 1692. Taylor’s Ports have for a long time been available in New Zealand, though the range has never been this broad.