Although the first wine producing area to have strict controls, Port can be confusing.
The following gives a brief explanation of the different types available.
This is the basic red Port, which is a blend of several harvests that have been aged in wooden barrels for up to 3 years before being bottled, and is ready to drink on release.
Tawny Port is a basic blended port, like Ruby, which is aged in the barrel before being bottled.
Better Tawny Port will show the age, specifically 10, 20, 30 or “over 40”. Because Tawny Port is a blend of several harvests the stated age is the average age of the base harvests.
White Port is made from White Grapes.
White Port is manufactured and fortified in exactly the same manner as Red, with the drier styles being ageing in cask for up to 10 years.
This is a very recent commercial development to capitalise on modern tastes and attract a younger female audience. It is made like Ruby but with a shorter period of skin contact, as with any other rose wine.
Crusted Port is a very small category, named because of the ‘crust’ of sediment that it forms in the bottle. Crusted is a blend of several harvests, which are bottled without being filtered and laid down to mature like Vintage wines. Using this approach allows the manufacturer to use some of the lesser harvests but still produce a good rich full bodied wine at an economical price.
Vintage Character was the term for a blend of several basic rubies given longer ageing (around 4 to 5 years) which is supposed to impart something of the flavour and character of Vintage Port. The name was banned in 2002. The term “Reserve” is now used.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
This style is a relatively recent addition emerging sometime around the 1960’s when there was a glut of Port and some simply did not get bottled!
Late Bottled Vintage Port is wine from a single specific harvest, the year being stated on the label, which has been aged in the barrel for between 4 and 6 years.
Late Bottled Vintage is intended to be drunk earlier, and does not have the ageing potential of a Full Vintage. It can be either filtered or non-filtered. The later has some ageing potential and will need decanting.
Single Quinta Port
Port made from a single specific harvest, and coming from a single specific estate or Quinta.
When very good quality harvests occur but which don’t quite make it to the standards required for Full Vintage, the harvest is used to make LBV’s and Single Quinta wines.
Aged and bottled as a Vintage Port the wines are ready to drink on release but will age further in bottle, throwing the classic sediment.
Colheita’s are essentially Tawny Port made from a single specific harvest. The year of harvest will be stated on the label along with the year of bottling and a statement that the wine has been given extended ageing in wood; a minimum of seven years.
There are strict controls on when a Port can be called Vintage and it is only made when the harvest is exceptional; about 3 times a decade. Only about 1% or 2% of all Port produced is worthy of being called Vintage. The product of a single harvest, the wine is aged in barrel for between 2 and 3 years is bottled un-filtered. It needs to be laid down for a considerable number of years so that it can age in the bottle.
Until 1986 all Port had to be bottled in Villa Nova de Gaia. For the small estates in the upper Douro the journey was not commercially viable. Their grapes went to the big boys. Changing this requirement means that we are now seeing more independent estates producing estate bottled Port.