Port

Port is from Portugal (although many countries make similiar wines) and comes in several styles, which can be divided into two broad categories: barrel aged and bottled aged.

Barrel-aged ports

Tawny port

Tawny ports are wines made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation.  As a result, they gradually mellow to a golden-brown color.  The exposure to wood imparts "nutty" flavors to the wine, which is blended to match the house style. When a Port is described as Tawny, without an indication of age, it is a basic blend of wood aged port that has spent at least seven years in barrels.  Above this are Tawny with an indication of age which represent a blend of several vintages, with the average years "in wood" stated on the label.  The official categories are 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years. 

Colheita

A Tawny port from a single vintage is called Colheitas.  Instead of an indication of age (10, 20...) the actual vintage year is mentioned.  However, they should not be mistaken with Vintage port (see below); whereas a Vintage port will have been bottled about 18 months after being harvested and will continue to mature, a Colheita may have spent 20 or more years in wooden barrels before being bottled and sold, at which point it will no longer mature.

Garrafeira

Garrafeira is an unusual and rare intermediate vintage dated style of Port made from the grapes of a single harvest that combines both the oxidative maturation of years in wood, with further reductive maturation in large glass demijohns.  It is required by the IVDP that wines spend some time in wood, usually between three and six years, followed by at least a further eight years in glass, before bottling.  In practice the times spent in glass are much longer.  At present, only one company, Niepoort, markets Garrafeiras. Some connoisseurs describe Garrafeira as having a slight taste of bacon, although many people will neither notice nor understand such a description.

Bottle-aged ports

Ruby port

Reserve or vintage character

Reserve port is a premium Ruby port approved by the IVDP's tasting panel, the Câmara de Provadores.  In 2002, the IVDP prohibited the use of the term "Vintage Character", as the wine had neither attribute. 

White port

White port is made from white grapes and can be made in a wide variety of styles, although few shippers produce anything apart from a basic produce that is similar to a standard Ruby.  White Port can be used as the basis for a cocktail, or served on its own.  There is a range of styles of white port, from dry to very sweet. 

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)

Late Bottled Vintage (often referred to simply as LBV) was originally wine that had been destined for bottling as Vintage Port, but because of lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned.  Over time it has become two distinct styles of wine, both of them bottled between four and six years after the vintage, but one style is fined and filtered before bottling while the other is not.

The filtered wine has the advantage of being ready to drink without decanting, and is bottled in a stoppered bottle that can be easily resealed.  This is designed to exploit the extended shelf life such wines enjoy by comparison with vintage port, once opened.  However many wine experts feel that this convenience comes at a price and believe that the filtration process strips out much of the character of the wine.

Unfiltered wines are bottled with conventional corks and need to be decanted and drunk immediately.  Recent bottlings are identified by the label wording 'Unfiltered' or 'Bottle matured' (or both).  Before the 2002 regulations, this style was often marketed as 'Traditional', a description that is no longer permitted.

Typically ready to drink when released, LBV ports are the product of a single year's harvest and tend to be lighter bodied than a vintage port.  Filtered LBVs do not generally improve with age, whereas the unfiltered wines will usually be improved by extra years in the bottle.  Since 2002, bottles that carry the words 'Bottle matured' must have enjoyed at least three years of bottle maturation before release.

Crusted

Crusted Port may be considered a 'poor man's vintage port'.  It is a blend of port wine from several vintages, which, like Vintage Port, is bottled unfiltered, and sealed with a driven cork.  Like Vintage Port it needs to be decanted before drinking.  Although Crusted ports will improve with age, the blending process is intended to make these wines approachable at a much younger age.  The date on a Crusted Port bottle refers to the bottling date, not the year the grapes were grown.

Vintage port

Although it accounts for only about two percent of production, vintage port is the flagship wine of all Portugal.  Vintage port is made entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year.  Not every year is declared a vintage in the Douro; only those when conditions are favorable to the production of a fine and lasting wine. The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house, often referred to as a 'shipper'.  The port industry is one where reputations are hard won and easily lost, so the decision is never taken lightly.  Conventional shippers will declare, on average, about three times a decade.

Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to thirty years of aging in the bottle before reaching what is considered a proper drinking age.  Since they are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.  Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to gain complexity and drink wonderfully for many decades after they were bottled, and therefore can be particularly sought-after and expensive wines.  That said, compared with the very high prices of Burgundy and Bordeaux, vintage port is quite reasonably priced.

Single Quinta Vintage Port

This is a relatively new (at least in terms of marketing) development: it is vintage port produced from a particular vineyard and sometimes from a lesser "undeclared" year.  However, some of the most renowned Vintage Ports are Single Quintas. The Quinta is also a reference to the house where the shippers (typically British) would stay on the property during the harvest - leaving them to ask for wine that was from the acreage they would be viewing during their visit.

Storing and serving

Port, like other wine, should be stored in a cool but not cold, dark location (as light can damage the port), with a steady temperature (such as a cellar), lying the bottle on its side if the bottle has a cork, or standing up if stoppered. Port should be served at between 15 to 20 degrees although tawny port may also be served slightly cooler.

Once opened, port wines must be consumed within a short period of time.  Those with stoppers can be kept for a couple of months in a dark place, but if it has a cork it must be consumed sooner.