Port is a fortified wine made predominantly in Portugal. It is originally named after the port city of Porto. In Portugal, port is made from indigenous grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cao in the Douro valley and fortified with the addition of brandy. Nowadays, there are more ports made around the world, notably in Australia where international grape varietals like Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache are used.
There are many different port styles but the common ones are ruby, tawny, late bottled vintage (LBV), colheita and vintage ports. Throw in white and rose ports and the subject gets more complicated.
Ruby Ports are young ports made to be consumed early. They are typically aged for 3 years and are generally wallet friendly. As the name suggests, the port has a deep ruby colour from the grapes and exhibit fresh fruity aromas. They are very approachable in their youth and are not meant for long term cellaring. Ruby ports are a good starting point to learning more about ports.
Tawny Ports spend a lot more time in oak compared to ruby ports. Because of the extended time in barrels (around 6 years), tawny ports tend towards nutty flavours and caramelized prunes, figs and dates, rather than the fruity notes associated with ruby. The colour too becomes less ruby red and exhibit more of a brownish hue. Some of these ports, especially those which are older, have an oxidative note as well. Tawny ports tend to be sweeter as well. We often see Tawny labels with ages such as 10, 20 or more years old. These refer to the minimum age of the wines that were used to make the port.
Late Bottled Vintage (“LBV”) Ports have a specific vintage year indicated on the label and has been aged between 4 and 6 years in oak before bottling and release in the market. The actual aging is determined by the port producer. An LBV is usually ready for drinking the moment you buy it, and no special “treatment” like decanting is required to enjoy it.
Colheita Ports are single vintage tawny ports that have been aged in oak for at least 7 years but can go up to 50 years and more. In a sense, they are rarer than vintage ports. Coheitas are approved by the I.V.D.P (Port and Douro Wine Institute) and is unique to Portugal.
Vintage Ports are made only in exceptional years. They are from a single vintage which explains the year on the labels. Unlike Colheitas, Vintage Ports are aged only in oak for 6 months or up to 2 years before bottling. They usually need upwards of 20 years in the bottle before they mature. Vintage ports are considered the pinnacle of ports.