Types of Port
The Instituto do Vinho do Porto has defined 9 port classifications:
Vintage Port is the premium port. After the wine is produced it is aged in barrel for 2 to 3 years and is bottled without filtering. It is designed to be laid down for a long period of time to allow aging to improve the wine.
The wines will develop into full and rich wines with flavours of plums, liquorice, pepper, blackcurrants and spices.
Vintage Port is typically declared only 3 times a decade. Approximately 1% of all port produced is deemed to be a Vintage and the reputation of the producers depends on the quality of their declared vintages.
The Instituto do Vinho do Porto regulates when a Port can be declared a Vintage:
- The wine must be from a single harvest;
- It must be bottled between the 1st July of the second year following harvest, and before the 30th June of the third year;
- The producer is required to submit samples of the wine to the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, together with the quantity of wine to be released, the yield of wine from the grapes, and the proposed release date of the wine.
If the Instituto is satisfied with the quality at this early stage, they will approve the declaration and the port house can then declare the vintage. In a year when the wines are of high quality, not all producers will declare. This makes for enthusiastic discussion about which producers have declared, and those that haven't. In some years only a small number of producers will declare, and these wines become of great interest as to their uniqueness; remember the Insituto regulates the declaration so the quality is assured, but the reason for the other houses not declaring provides the mystique.
The most important point about Vintage Port however is that it isn't meant to be drunk in less than at least 15 years. It improves significantly after this many years in bottle and for some vintages many more years than this.
Tawny Port is a blended port (the same as Ruby) but has received further aging in the barrel. The additional aging ranges from 3 years up to 40 years. The wine remains red but develops a brown hue, and brings raisin and nut flavours with age. However, cheaper Tawny, available in lower quality outlets, is simply a blend of basic red port with a small amount of white port. This is not true tawny. To find that, look for a bottle marked with age, e.g. 10 or 20 years. This age is actually the average age of the several harvests in the bottle.
White Port is usually made from the Arinto, Gouveio, Malvasia and Viosinho grapes. These are white wine grapes and produce both sweet and dry styles of port following the same fortification process as red. White Port is intended to be drunk as an apertif and is best served when slightly chilled.
Ruby Port is a blend of several harvests that have been aged in wooden barrels for up to 3 years before being bottled. It is ready for drinking immediately and is a sweet, comforting wine. The name comes from the bright colour of the wine and the taste is rich and spicy.
Crusted Port was always a low-volume market and is now quite difficult to find. It is again a blend of several harvests but bottling takes place without filtering It then throws a crust (actually of sediment) that forms in the bottle. Crusted port allows the producer to use some lesser quality or low volume harvests, but still to produce a decent port at a reasonable price. The year stated on the bottle is usually the year in which the wine was bottled.
Vintage Character is a blend of several ruby port wines that are given extra aging (similar to tawny, but only of usually 4 or 5 years). This is intended to deliver a style that might be recognised as Vintage Port. However, it doesn't work very well and the higher price for these bottles isn't usually worth it. A Late Bottled Vintage is a better bet.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
Late Bottled Vintage ports are now very popular and available in many high street supermarkets and wine merchants in the UK. The wine is from a single harvest and the year is usually stated on the bottle. The wine is usually aged in wood for 4 to 6 years. LBV port is very quaffable and more accessible than a true Vintage Port. The wines are intended to be drunk early, and do not have much aging potential. The most commonly available LBV is filtered but it's also possible to obtain unfiltered; these have a richer flavour but require decanting as a sediment is thrown.
Single Quinta ports are from a single harvest from a single estate or Quinta.
At harvest time, if the grapes are poor in quality, the wines will be blended to make ruby or tawny port. However, if the quality is good, but not quite good enough to make a Vintage Port, the producer will use the wine for LBV or Single Quinta ports. If you were wondering what the next rung is down the ladder from Vintage Port, the Single Quinta is it. It's very good and a lot cheaper, however it's a little more difficult to find Single Quinta ports on the high street. The wines are aged and bottled in the same way as Vintage Port but are ready to drink immediately but will age well in bottle. A sediment is thrown so decanting is required.
A Colheita is a Tawny port made from a single harvest rather than a true Tawny which is blended from the harvests of several different years. The bottle label will state the year of harvest and the year of bottling. The wine is given extra aging in barrel for a minimum of 7 years. The colour will fade and a nutty flavour develops giving the classic rich Christmas pudding overtones.