Editor’s Note: This new weekly sponsored column is written by the staff of Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).
It’s the holiday season more and more customers are asking for a great gift recommendation for their loved ones. Any wine lover would be perfectly content with a nice high-end Cabernet or even a bottle of champagne. However, if you want to get a wine that someone special can enjoy for a few winter nights, port is definitely the way to go as some ports can keep up to a month after opening.
Port is a fortified wine from the mountainous Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. Under strict guidelines of the European Union protected designation of origin, only wines from Portugal may be labeled Port or Porto. The grapes used to make ports are a variety of grapes grown in the Douro region that are blended together.
After this process winemakers let the fermentation process begin as the yeast starts to convert sugar into alcohol (some wineries still do traditional foot pressing). A few days later, winemakers add in a neutral grape spirit or brandy to stop the fermentation process, leaving the wine with a load of residual sugar and higher alcohol content (18% – 22% a.b.v.). This sweetness and heavy alcohol content is why port is considered a dessert wine, after dinner wine, or (for me) a nightcap.
Port wine comes in many different styles. Each style is dependent on all how the port has been vinified, stored, and aged. The two main categories of port are wood aged and bottle aged, and each has many subcategories. For the purpose of simplicity and this article, I am going to write about the most popular and best-selling styles ports.
Tawny port is the most bought and served port in Portugal and the rest of the world. Tawny ports are made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels that allow a slight amount of oxygen inside allowing the wine to slowly oxidize. As the wine oxidizes in the barrel the color of the wine turns from a dark red color to a beautiful golden brown color. Tawny ports come in four official categories — 10 year, 20 year, 30 year, and 40 year — all based on the average age of the blends used. The longer these wines spend in wood, the more complexities are derived from the wine. Tawny’s typically have a distinct nuttiness with butterscotch and vanilla flavors that make this style of port absolutely delicious. Here are two of my favorite Tawny ports.
Quinta De La Rosa Tawny Porto
This is house port of a small family owned vineyard in Northern Portugal. This port has been aged a minimum of two years, and offers complexity not found in ports in the same price range. Great for anyone trying port for the first time, and can be served over ice.
“20 year” does not indicate actual age of the wine but indicates average age. So this particular wine has older wine that adds complexity and younger, fresher wines that add vibrant fruit flavors that make this port an incredible blend. This port is also very rich and elegant. Makes a perfect gift for the holidays or an anniversary.
Ruby ports are the youngest most basic wood aged ports. Ruby ports do not spend much time in oak barrels therefore are much more fruit-driven than their Tawny counterpart. Ruby ports tend to be less expensive compared to other ports as well. The lower price does not mean lower quality and less taste, just less aging. Ruby ports can also be served slightly chilled, and pair perfect for a fruit dessert or a cold night. Here are two of my favorite Ruby style ports.
Graham’s Six Grapes is not exactly a ruby port, but it is very similar in style. Grahams is one of the most famous port producers in the world, and Six Grapes is their house blend. Six Grapes is more full-bodied than most ports out there, and offers a heavy dose of fruit and a robust taste of top quality port. A go-to port for me as a crowd pleaser or an everyday port.