It’s the holiday time of year again and what could be better, or at least more traditional, than a sip of port at the end of a festive meal? Since this may in fact be the only time of the year that some people touch the stuff, it’s worthwhile arming yourself with knowledge so you can pick the best one.
In short, port wine, I mean the real stuff, is produced exclusively in Portugal’s northern provinces of the Douro Valley. It is typically a sweet red wine that goes at the end of the meal, but in fact, there are also dry, white and semi-dry varieties. Port wine is the product of locally grown grapes that are characterised by their small size, dense fruit and concentrated flavours that linger. It is processed in the Douro region and then fortified by adding some neutral grape spirits to halt the fermentation process that leaves behind some sugar. It also results in a higher percentage of alcohol, usually reaching the 18-20% range. That being said, there are many wines on the market that claim to be port, but are simply imitations of the real thing.
Styles of Port
If Portuguese port is matured in glass bottles, it is not exposed to air and experiences “reductive” aging. The end product is smooth with less tannic properties. Port that has come of age in wooden barrels experiences a slight amount of exposure to oxygen and goes through “oxidative” aging. Its color fades quickly and the end result is a bit more viscous. A good bet for barrel-aged port is the tawny variety, which carries a nutty flavour that is usually blended to match the style of the house. Whether you choose sweet or medium dry, they are both a great ending to any holiday meal.