Don’t Ignore Port: This Overlooked and Underrated Wine Is Waiting to Be Discovered

Port wine comes in a variety of colours, with marked differences in style, quality and price that can be confusing to the uninitiated.Diana Ray/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

Alas, poor port. Although it is one of the world’s first famous wines, few people seem to want to drink it. Whether in complex and delicate tawny styles or deep and delicious ruby ​​colours, these venerable wines are overlooked and underappreciated.

Times have changed, and consumers no longer prefer strong, sweet red wines fortified with brandy, made from a blend of grapes grown in Portugal’s Alto Douro region. Part of the problem is that the bewildering variety of styles being produced—port comes in a variety of colors, with stark differences in style, quality, and price—confuses the layman.

These versatile spirits are perfect for gift giving

Even those who know what to expect from a 10-year-old tawny or a current-release evening vintage port won’t drink much. I am the culprit.

Over the past year, I’ve recommended some attractive and concentrated unfortified wines made in the Douro, such as the ripe and full-bodied Crasto 2019 or the affordable and attractive Vicente Faria Animus Douro 2019. But I don’t think I’ve mentioned ports since November 2021.

I rarely open a bottle of port – or any fortified wine, for that matter – other than teaching a Wine and Spirits Educational Trust class or tasting samples for refresher purposes. When I do, it’s always around this time of year. Believing that an opened bottle of tawny port will keep for six weeks or more, I will open a bottle on Christmas Eve knowing that on many occasions, I and others will likely be wandering around the table enjoying a small cup. (Port wine hovers around 20 percent alcohol and can be enjoyed with dessert or as a digestive.)

Aged in wooden barrels and bottled for 10 and 20 years, the tawny-style port has rich flavors of dried fruit, nuts and toffee. (Older styles, especially those in the 30s and 40s are available in specialty stores). There is also a range of ruby-red ports that are getting darker and offering younger, fresher dark fruit flavours. Some notable producers include Taylor Fladgate, Graham’s, Noval, Niepoort and Barros.

These classic wines deserve more attention. Think of holidays, the winter solstice, or any opportunity to relax in front of a roaring fireplace (even if it’s from TV) as an opportunity to drink and savor. Definitely chill it slightly, but I wouldn’t worry about having special dessert wines or smaller port glasses on hand. Pour a small amount (two to three ounces) into a white wine glass to bring out the complex aromas and flavors of Port. Remember that wine stays fresh for weeks in the refrigerator, so you can come back and enjoy the experience again.

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