Simon Milroy, Manager at Majestic Wine Battersea, discusses different syles and varieties of port – and clears up a notorious matter of after-dinner etiquette!
It’s the age old post dinner argument, which way do you pass the port? It is of course meant to be passed to the left and if being a stickler for tradition no one can put the bottle down apart from the host. Some traditional Port decanters have a rounded bottom so you can’t actually put it down except in a special holder kept next to the host.
Starting with the basics, Port is a fortified wine. That means that the fermentation is prematurely arrested by the addition of a neutral spirit which both raises the alcohol level to about 20% and leaves residual sugar giving the wine sweetness. However it is the following maturation that determines the style.
Broadly speaking, port can be divided into two basic styles, wine that has spent most of its life in an oak cask and is ready for drinking, or wine that spends a little time in oak then most of its life developing in the bottle. This can be further split into the individual styles one sees on the shelf.
Ruby port is the simplest style, being a blend of young wines creating a straight forward fruity style. However it is worth trading up slightly to Late bottled vintage port, which is from a single year and will have spent between four and six years ageing in cask. This can then be either filtered and stabilised, such a Taylor’s LBV 2003 which can be opened and drunk with no need for decanting or sold as unfiltered as is Fonseca’s unfiltered LBV 2003, which will ideally need decanting (or careful pouring). Leaving the wine unfiltered adds concentration and intensity.
Another great alternative to vintage port is Crusted port. This is a wine that is a blend of different years and is also bottled young with no filtration. It will continue to develop in the bottle (if you can wait) and will need decanting before serving. Fonseca’s Crusted Port is rich, powerful and has more body than the LBV’s.
A favourite of mine is Tawny port. These are wines that spend all their life in casks and as a result are much lighter in colour (Tawny!) and offer a softer less fruit driven style of port that show great finesse and nutty characters. They normally are found designated as 10, 20, 30 or 40 year old, although confusingly they are a blend of many years and just need to have the character of the associated age. Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny port is a great example of this style.
Finally we have vintage and vintage style ports. Vintage ports are only produced in the best of years (usually about three times in a decade) and are bottled after two to three years in cask. They then continue to age for long time in the bottle. This style of port in normally offered for sale early and much is sold via en primeur. In the other undeclared vintages, port houses produce what is known as a single Quinta (vineyard) wine that shows the vintage and is aged in Oporto until ready for drinking. This offers a very similar style to vintage port at a reduced price with no need to cellar it further. All vintage styles should be decanted and they should be treated like a still wine and drunk within two or three days after opening. Try either the Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2001 or Delaforce’s Quinta da Corte 1991 for great examples of the single Quinta style. And remember, next time you have port, pass it to the left!
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2003 (with Gift Carton)
£12.99 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Renowned for their succulently plum-rich Ports, this Late Bottled Vintage is a classic example from Taylor’s. Spicy with sumptuous wood and fruit flavours it makes for a satisfying after dinner treat.
Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2003 (with Gift Carton)
£14.99 or £12.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
A deliciously fruited and softly structured port from the revered Fonseca house. Full of plum and raisin aromas with a deep and long finish. Great after dinner quaffing.
Fonseca Crusted Port NV (with individual wooden gift case)
£15.99 or £13.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Crusted is a rare, traditional style of Port blended and bottled with no filtration to allow potential for further ageing in the bottle. Rich and full-bodied in style, it can be drunk now, but needs careful decanting.
Delaforce Quinta da Corte 1991 New!
£17.99 or £15.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
This has a powerful, intense bouquet of blackcurrant, cherry and cedar. The palate is beautifully balanced and structured with rich, rounded black fruit flavours.
Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port
£19.99 or £17.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Taylor’s Tawny Ports are amongst the very best. Fragrant and nutty with great character and complexity. No need to decant. Can be drunk slightly chilled.
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2001
£27.00 or £25.00 when you buy 2 bottles*
The best known of Taylor’s properties, this single quinta port is wonderfully concentrated with spicy aromas and well-defined dried fruit flavours redolent of figs, raisins and prunes. Decant before serving.
*All prices valid until 1st February 2010 & Gift packaging available whilst stocks last