Guide to Port Styles

Not all Port is Vintage, there are many other styles of Port which can be enjoyed on different occasions and with different food combinations, all of which are ready for enjoyment when you purchase them.

Fundamentally, only Vintage Port has been selected and blended for long term aging and flavour development in bottle, though many people do enjoy the full fruit flavours, power and intensity of very young Vintage.  Crusted Port could be laid down for further bottle ageing, but we recommend only a few years. 

All other styles, whether White, Tawny or Ruby, are released to the market ready for enjoyment.  A year or two in cool dark cellar storage conditions will not compromise their quality, but these wines will not mature or benefit from bottle ageing like a Vintage Port.  When ready to enjoy, simply open the bottle and serve – no decanting required for these Ports* – and they will have T-shaped stopper corks so they can easily be sealed and stored somewhere cool, ready to enjoy again within a few weeks. (*The sole exception being Bottle Aged LBV, see below.)

This is just a very brief guide to the non-Vintage styles of Port – follow the links to learn more about specific examples of each style on the respective brand websites.

White Ports are made from traditional Portuguese white grape varieties, including Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  The grapes are vinified with little or no skin contact and are aged just a few years in large oak casks or stainless steel to preserve and enhance their refreshing fruit flavours. The style can vary from classic sweet to semi dry, dry or extra dry finishes.

Ready to drink when bottled, White Ports should be served chilled, and make a delightful aperitif, or can be served after dinner with a light fruit dessert.  The classic summer cooler here in the Douro is a long drink of dry White Port mixed with tonic and a slice of lemon.

All of our brands make White Ports, for just one example try Warre’s Fine White Port, which is a medium dry style, with crisp flowery aromas, fresh almonds on the palate and a long tangy finish.

Tawny Ports are the ultimate expression of the master blender’s art.  In our lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia are thousands of small oak casks, or Pipes as they are called here, of 550 litres, in which selected lots of Port age for years, decades, even lifetimes.  Due to the natural micro-exchange of oxygen through the wooden casks during the aging process, three things happen: 

  • The colour of these Ports changes from the original deep purple-red to lovely tawny shades, ranging from a cedary red-gold to a deep golden amber with flashes of green according to age.   
  • The flavours change and develop from primary fruit to dried fruit, nut and caramelly flavours, through to tea, tobacco and leather aromas, and finally on to elegant and complex flavours that defy description.
  • The wines concentrate, as the liquid gradually evaporates through the casks.  The “missing” wine is known as the angels’ share.

Tawny Ports are made by selecting and blending wines of various ages.  Most well known are the “Indication of Age” Tawnies – the 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawnies which are blended so that the average age of the finished blend is at least as many years as shown on the label, and often older.  There are also Fine and Reserve styles of Tawnies blended to younger average ages. 

Finally, there are Colheitas which are wines aged in pipe as Tawnies, but which are the product of a single harvest year.  Imagine a Vintage Port which had aged in barrel, rather than bottle – that is a Colheita.  We select and bottle these rare Colheitas at a moment when we think they offer an extraordinary taste experience.  

All types of Tawnies are ready to enjoy when bottled and released, and will retain their character for several weeks after opening, if re-corked and stored in cool conditions.  Serve slightly chilled to enhance the aromas and flavours.  Younger tawnies, up to 20 Years Old, are wonderful with fruit based or creamy desserts (think apple pie, créme brulée, or the Portuguese natas pastries), the older tawnies can be enjoyed with nuts or dried fruit, but perhaps are best savoured on their own - they really do merit your undivided attention, with their extraordinarily complex flavours.

Graham’s has a superb range of Tawny Ports which includes extraordinary 30 Year Old and 40 Year Old Tawny Ports, and Warre’s 10 and 20 Year Old Otima Tawnies revolutionised consumers’ image of Port with their light, delicate and fresh flavour profiles and clean contemporary packaging.

Dow’s and Warre’s both have a history of offering fine Colheitas, but perhaps the single most extraordinary Colheita from the Symington brands in recent years would be the Graham’s 1952 Finest Old Tawny Port, Bottled to Commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated in June of 2012.  Offered in England exclusively through London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, the tasting note from BBR’s Simon Field expresses perfectly how elusive the flavours of such an extraordinary old wine can be, describing it as “redolent of old libraries, autumnal bonfires and distant poetry.” Do follow the link for the full tasting note, it is a beauty!

Ruby Ports include all the styles of Port that are bottled and meant to be enjoyed whilst the youthful deep red colours and rich fruit flavours prevail.  They are aged for only a few years in oak casks of tens of thousands of litres to minimise the effects of wood and oxygen on the wines.  There are several styles in this category.

Ruby and Reserve Ports are young ports from a variety of years selected and blended for their rich fruit flavours.  All our brands produce Fine Ruby Ports blended for an average age around 3 years, and Reserves blended to an average between 4 and 7 years.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve, introduced in 1969, was the first really great Reserve Port, establishing this category and bringing Port back to the attention of consumers.  Graham’s Six Grapes is another outstanding Reserve Ruby which is blended from the lots left over or de-classified from potential Vintage Port blends.  If you enjoy the intensity of very young Vintage Port, these are the wines to enjoy every day for a similar taste sensation.

Late Bottled Vintage is the next step in the Ruby category, and is made from the lots of a single year – which will be featured prominently on the label – which have been aged in large wooden casks between 4 and 6 years, blended and bottled after a light filtration. 

Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage is a superb example of this style, full-bodied, rich but perfectly balanced with soft peppery tannins and a fine acidity, ending with the classic Dow’s dry finish.  Dow’s LBV has been the most consistently awarded Port in its category in the top blind wine tasting competitions for years.  Late Bottled Vintage Ports are classic with dark chocolate desserts and show equally well with pungent hard cheeses like mature cheddar or even a ripe soft goat’s cheese.

Warre’s and Smith Woodhouse are unique in the market for continuing to make traditional Bottle-Aged Late Bottled Vintage Ports.  After some 4 years in cask we bottle these wines without fining or filtration.  We then lay down the bottles in our own lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia for the wine to continue to age for at least 4 years before we release it to the market, ready for you to enjoy. 

Bottle Aged LBVs will have a classic driven cork and should be decanted before serving.  Though any remaining wine could be re-corked and saved for a day or two these are such fabulous wines, you really should plan to enjoy these at their best with friends and family, and either dark chocolate or strong cheese after a meal.

Finally, Crusted Port is a blend of particularly full bodied Ports from several years’ harvests.  The date featured on the label will be the year of bottling, and typically the lots in the blend will have been selected from the two or three harvests preceding the bottling date.  The wines will have matured in cask for 12 to 18 months and been bottled without fining or filtration.  The bottles are then laid down in our own cellars for a further 3 years before being released to the market, ready for consumption, though it will continue to mature for a few years in your cellar, if you wish.  Crusted Port is another excellent value option for those who love the rich full bodied character of young Vintage Ports.

Graham’s and Dow’s both produce Crusted Ports which reflect the “house style” of the brand – rich, sweet and luscious Graham’s, or the classic peppery black fruit and drier finish of Dow’s.

And of course, to learn more about what does make a Port Vintage Port, we suggest you read about The Declaration of a Vintage for the fundamentals of making and deciding to declare a Vintage Port, and our article about the Lifecyle of Vintage Port in Bottle to understand the ageing process and the development of the flavour profile of Vintage Port over the years.

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