Info about Port
This Page contains information about the different types of port.
|Vintage Port||Single Quinta Vintage Port||Late Bottled Vintage|
|Garrafeira||Colheita||Tawny with age|
|Tawny Reserve||Tawny||White Port|
No port is rarer or more sought-after than Vintage Port. At most, it constitutes a mere 2% of the total production. Vintage Port comes from a single vintage harvest of recognized quality with exceptional characteristics, displays superb color, full body, and very fine aroma and flavor. In order to obtain the necessary approval of the Port Wine Institute to "declare" a vintage, the producer must submit a sample bottle for evaluation by the Institute no sooner than January and no later than June of the second year from the harvest. If the port is approved the wine can be sold as earliest on May 1 of the second year, and it must be bottled no later than July 30 of the third year from the harvest (i.e. in practical terms is bottled 2 years after the vintage). The approval is given only if an expert panel, tasting blind, agrees that the port is fantastic and superb.
For a 2011 vintage port, for example, it should be harvested in 2011 and sold earliest May 1 in 2013. It must be bottled before July 30, 2014. The wine should then spend many years of maturing in the bottle, where it is transformed from a diamond in the rough, with intense color, juicy fruits and lots of tannins, to a polished and smooth wine displaying many facets of depth, complexity and balance. It normally takes a Vintages Port from 15 to 25 years to reach their full potential, but some Vintages mature slower and reaches its peak when being well over 30 years old. Of course the maturing depends on many things, not only related to the quality of the wine, but also on the storing and handling of the bottle. It is impossible to tell exactly which year the first Vintage was declared but it was somewhere around 1750. Then certain harvests were left in casks - unblended - to age. These cask aged wines were drunk soon after the cask was opened until the bottle and cork came into existence later in the century. Wine from the vintage of 1765 was auctioned by the pipe at Christie's in 1773. From 1775 onwards Vintage Port was sold in bottles that could be laid on their sides with cork stoppers. This was the beginning of the tradition of long-aged bottled wines which was then imitated in other countries. By the 1820s it was usual to leave Vintage Ports in cask for about four years and then age them 15 years or more in bottle. Eventually, it was recognized that the wines had more aging potential if they were bottled earlier, and between two and three years became the norm, and is now a legal requirement. To maintain richness and power they are neither fined nor filtered. This results in a large amount of sediment as they mature. Since 1975 all Vintage Port must be bottled in Portugal with the word Vintage, the name of the producer, and year of harvest and bottling stated on the front label. Vintage Port is one of the world's great wines, its slow maturation, heavy sediment (which requires decanting), and high cost, makes it suitable for special occasions.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
Most Vintage Ports are produced from a number of different vineyards, one chosen for backbone, one for style, one for bouquet, another for finesse etc. As with Champagne, the key was in the blend of these various components to create a synergistic whole, better than the sum of its part. This is the House style of Vintage Port. Classically the one exception to this is Quinta do Noval, which produce its Vintage Port from a single vineyard, or quinta. Recently, several Port producers have begun making single-quinta Vintage Port. This existed already during the 19th century. Under the name of “Special Quinta” the first single quinta was produced in 1910 from Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas. However old wine catalogues tell us that you could buy wines bearing the name Vargellas on the label as early as in 1820. During this century many houses were sold as Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP). During the 20th century SQVP was continued to be sold under the single quinta name and often also adding the House name, for example Quinta de la Rosa under Feuerheerd and Kopke’s Quinta Roriz. However, SQVP became more common from 1958 when Taylor started with declaring Quinta de Vargellas more regularly. These are generally produced from the best vineyard, but not in their best years. However, already in 1952 Graham and Fonseca started their second label introduction with Malvedos and Guimaraens. In contrast to the perception of most wine drinkers who often believe that a Cabernet from a single chateaux or vineyard (e.g. Martha’s) is better than a regular Bordeaux or Cabernet, single-quinta Vintage Port are rarely as good as the Vintage Port from that house. An exception is Quinta do Noval as mentioned and other small producers which also make their Vintage Port from single quinta vineyards e.g. Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Infantado and Quinta de la Rosa.
As with Vintage Port from the different Houses, approval of the Port Wine Institute to "declare" a vintage must be obtained, the producer must submit a sample bottle for evaluation by the Institute no sooner than January 1 and no later than September 30 of the second year from the harvest. If the port is approved the wine must be bottled no sooner than July 1 of the second year, and no later than June 1 of the third year from the harvest (i.e. in practical terms is bottled 2 years after the vintage). The approval is given only if an expert panel, tasting blind, agrees that the port is fantastic and superb.
Late Bottled Vintage
Late Bottled Vintage, LBV, is the name given to a type of Port that is ready to drink earlier, costs less and is normally filtered before bottled. Unfiltered LBV's have been more common over the last decade but most producers still filter before bottling. An LBV is left in cask for four to six years before bottling. In order to obtain the necessary approval of the Port Wine Institute to "declare" a Late Bottled Vintage, the producer must submit a sample bottle for evaluation by the Institute no sooner than March 1 and no later than September 30 of the fourth year after the harvest. If the port is approved the wine must be bottled no sooner than July 1 of the fourth year, and no later than December 31 of the sixth year from the harvest. For the 1989 harvest, this would mean bottling between July 1, 1993 and December 31, 1995. The producer must state the year of both harvest and bottling on the main label, but today the year of the bottling is not required anymore. LBVs must be from a single harvest of good quality, having good characteristics, good color and body, with fine aroma and taste. Usually they are less rich and concentrated than Vintage Port. But there are several companies that make a traditional type of LBV, harking back to the mid-sixties when the category originated, using minimal fining and no filtering. This develops slowly in bottle and throws heavy sediment like Vintage Port. Quinta do Noval regards as the first producer of LBV in 1954 but not until 1964 the Port Wine Institute approved LBV as a special type. The first LBV was declared in 1964. Taylor believed to be the first to declare LBV in 1965 and bottled in 1969, but Burmester and Gilberts made a LBV 1964. However it should be remember that this kind of port has been produced before. Already 1927 Ramos Pinto made it for the Brazil market. Taylor produced a vintage from 1938, bottled 1942, which now are labeled LBV even if it was declared as a vintage when released and Guimaraens made a 1944 which was bottled in 1948 during the same circumstances. LBV is intended to be ready to drink on release and is not used for extensive bottle ageing, but will improve with moderate bottle ageing. The ageing potential of LBV can vary considerably depending upon the style of the house. Those LBVs with the word “Traditional” or “Tradition” appearing on the label have been neither fined nor filtered and are capable of ageing for several years. They will usually keep better after opening and so often fit the needs of the home where Port is only an occasional after-dinner drink.
Ruby Reserve (after 2002, former Vintage Character Ports) have been on the market for about 70 years and have a long tradition of good quality. Perhaps the terms super-ruby or premium-ruby would better characterize this category. A Ruby Reserve Port, like Tawny, is non-vintage blended, but the emphasis is on the fruit and richness rather than lightness and delicacy. True Vintage Port must be considered a "moving" target that passes from a powerful, rich, raw infancy to a balanced, complex adulthood to a dignified, fascinating but fragile old age. The producer of a Ruby Reserve must make a decision as to which stage of life he is going to emulate. The majorities have elements from four to six years old and emphasize ripeness, vigor and roundness, but some incorporate higher proportions of older wines for depth, smoothness and complexity, while others are gentle, evolved and soft, but with enough fruit and fire to show they are part of the family. These wines are ready-to-drink once bottled and generally do not improve with further bottle age, though some ageing is not a detriment. They will usually keep better after opening and so often fit the needs of home where port is an occasional after-dinner drink. The grapes for these Ruby Reserve Ports come from the best properties in the Douro. The top-ranked properties account for about 18% of Port production and Vintage, LBV, Colheita, and Age-Indicated Tawnies absorb only about 6% of this. Most of the remaining 12% is used for Ruby Reserve, making it the largest of the elite categories. Some of the best are: Fonseca Bin 27, Graham Six Grapes, Sandeman Founder's Reserve, Noval LB, Cockburn Special Reserve, Ramos-Pinto's Quinta da Urtiga, Warre's Warrior, Quinta do Infantado Estate Reserve, Dow's A.J.S. and Taylor's First Estate. Among those who use the term Vintage Character on the label are: Calem's Vintage Character, Churchill's Finest Vintage Character, Niepoort's Vintage Character, Krohn's Vintage Character, and others.
Ruby Port is generally the youngest. They have fruit and noticeable sweetness and are sometimes served lightly chilled as a summer aperitif. The grapes are generally grown in the west end of the Douro where rainfall is plentiful and production bountiful. It is usually aged no more than three years and should be consumed when quite young, for the essence of its charm is its spicy, fresh vibrancy. While bottle ageing does not improve these wines to any noticeable degree, there is no need to drink them quickly.
This once very popular style is markedly similar in all respects to a Late Bottled Vintage but now rarely seen. It combines two or three wines from vintages which were three to four years of age and, after marrying in cask, bottled the result. Crusted port is forbidden by law from carrying any reference to a particular vintage and, although capable of improving in the bottle, has largely been replaced by the LBV bottling, although it is still found in Great Britain and sometimes in Scandinavia. It will improve with ageing, say 5 years or so, and will throw sediment.
These rarely seen Ports are from a single harvest year and are aged in cask and then kept in bottle for many years before being released. They are aged in large bottles first, at least 8 years, and then decanted to standard-sized bottles for further aging. Garrafeira Ports are subject to re-approval before release by the Port Wine Institute from the standpoint of quality, presentation and labeling. Stylistically they fall between the intense fruitiness of Vintage Port and the delicate nuttiness of Colheita Port. Niepoort is the most famous producer of this category.
This is essentially a single vintage harvest Tawny, and is sometimes referred to as a "Port of the Vintage" or a "Reserve" with year of harvest designated. In order to "declare" a Colheita Port, two bottles of the wine must be sent to the Port Wine Institute between July 1 and December 31 of the 3rd year following the harvest. It must remain in cask for at least 7 years and may be released only when new samples are approved after January 1 of the following year. There is, however, no limit to the number of years, beyond seven, that a Colheita can be kept in cask. It is not unusual to find recently released Colheitas that are 10, 15, and even 50 years old. At each such "release" a new sample of the wine must be submitted to the Port Wine Institute before approved. The label must always state that the wine has been aged in cask or matured in wood, and also the year of bottling on either the front or back label. The use of “Vintage” on the label is now forbidden in order to avoid any confusion with Vintage Port. However it may occasionally turn up on wines bottled prior to 1974. Also, as some firms feel the word “Colheita” is difficult for non-speakers of Portuguese to pronounce, they have gotten permission to use a new term “Single Harvest Reserve”. A Colheita should not be regarded as a second-rate Vintage, but rather as a first-rate Tawny with date. This is the Port wine of all sorts that is produced in the smallest quantity, less than 1% of all Port made. Prices of Colheita can be almost as high as for Vintage Port, or even higher for the rarest and best Colheitas.
Tawny with Indication of Age
Many Ports are blends of several years and therefore do not bear a date. There is a special category, however, that indicates an average age; the prestigious Tawnies with average age of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. These are the only age statements legally permitted by the Port Wine Institiute. The front label must state the age of the wine and an indication that it was aged in cask, while the year of bottling must be stated on either the front or back label. Each cuvée of wine in this category is made up of numerous lots of varying age. There is younger wine for vigor and freshness, and older wine for complexity and breed. The aroma and flavor characteristics are in the hands of a master blender who strives to create a wine with a unique personality that is maintained year after year. Refinement and strength, complexity and freshness, maturity and vigor; all are hallmarks of a fine aged Tawny. A great Vintage is in the hands of God, but a great Tawny is created by a master blender. Some bottles are labeled "more than 40 years” or “40+ years" and others, only in the United States, simply as "40 years". There is no difference. American authorities find the first term imprecise and this semantic concession has been made for them. The older the Tawny, the more pale the color, the more elegant the bouquet, the more delicate the flavor, the drier the style and the more expensive the bottle. The Tawnies do not improve with added bottle age and are very stable once opened.
Tawny reserve is a tawny with strict legal rules of at least seven year ageing in wood. In comparison to ordinary tawny the tawny reserve must be approved by the Port Wine Institute.
Tawny Port without age indication is generally also from the west end of the Douro and although it is less intensely colored than Ruby Port it is rarely more than three years old. It derives its lightness and elegance from having less color extraction due to shorter skin/juice contact at the time of fermentation, or by blending in a certain amount of white Port to achieve the appropriate color. This is done to keep the production cost down, but still be able to sell a wine that looks like an old matured tawny. The French are so enamored of this category, which they regard as a perfect aperitif, that they drink several million cases a year and passed Great Britain in 1963 being the most port drinking country in the world.
White Port is made the same way as other Port but is made from white, rather than red grapes, and little juice/skin contact is allowed so as to produce a bright, clear wine. The principal grapes are: Viosinho, Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Códega and Rabigato. These wines range from quite dry, to off-dry, to very sweet. This last is always designated as a "Lagrima" ("Teardrop Port"). Dry White Ports often include the word "dry" or "apéritif" on the label. The remainder are off-dry. The dry and off-dry types can be drunk straight up, on the rocks, or with soda water garnished with a lemon slice. There is also a separate category of White Port called "Light Dry", (Leve Seco) which is not only quite dry but has only 16.5% alcohol rather than the usual 20%. According to some sources Taylor was among the first to produce white port as early as 1934. Niepoort also have some very old white ports with the year on the label.
There are also white ports from a single vintage harvest. These are labeled with the vintage. This is very rare but there exists samples from the 1950's and even older. The white port with a specified vintage can be made both according to Colheita and Garrafeira rules.
Pink Port is a new type of Port wine, light in style, bright pink in color with fresh fruit aromas. The wine was created by taking only a small amount of color from the skins of the red grapes. It is technically a standard ruby port, but fermented as rosé wine. Pink port is commonly served cold, over ice as a refreshing drink. Pink port is a product of the soaring sales of rosé wine and a way of trying to broaden the market for port wine. Pink Port was developed by Croft and winemaker David Guimaraens and was released to the market in 2008. In addition to Croft's own brand, Croft Pink, they also made a special blend for Marks and Spencer, who released it in the UK under their own brand, Pink Port. Both Croft Pink and M&S Pink Port is targeting the younger, female Port drinker. Another intention behind the creation of Pink Port was to free Port wine from its winter character, and thus prolonging the Port season over the summer months. Since the release, several port houses have made their own Pink or Rosé port.
|Vintage Port||Single Quinta Vintage Port||Late Bottled Vintage|
|Garrafeira||Colheita||Tawny with age|
|Tawny Reserve||Tawny||White Port|