Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Article excerpt

The age of port

* Like programming a VCR, port seems simple enough--until you really get into it. In fact, port is one of the world's most intricate and painstakingly handcrafted beverages. But this shouldn't make any of us wary. Just the opposite--port deserves our attention precisely because it is intellectually fascinating and tastes like nothing else in the world.

Port is a lusciously sweet wine from Portugal that has about 10 percent of its original natural sugar and is fortified to about 20 percent alcohol. Port-style wines are made in many places. Some sensational ones are coming out of Australia; California produces a few good ones too. But to truly understand port, the best place to begin is with the real McCoy.

Multiple grapes indigenous to Portugal are used to make port. Further complicating the picture, the wine is made in 10 radically different styles. Here are the five main ones.

Ruby port

This is a blend of young wines from different years, each of which has been in barrels or tanks for two to three years on its own. It's bottled and sold without any further aging. The grapes used in ruby port are just decent; still, the wine can be tasty, and the price is right.

Vintage character port

This is a confusing term, for these juicy ports don't come from a single vintage and many don't resemble vintage ports (see below) at all. A better name for them would be super rubies. Made up of good but not great wines that have spent on average four to six years in barrels, vintage character ports are relatively inexpensive.

Late-bottled vintage port

LBVs do come from single vintages that have been aged in the barrel for four to six years. Bold and fruity, most of these delicious ports are ready to drink upon release, and cost about half as much as vintage ports.

Aged tawny port

Usually designated on the label as 10-, 20-, 30-, or more-than-40-year-old aged tawnies, these refined and elegant ports are among the best loved, both as aperitifs and as after-dinner drinks. Aged tawny ports are blends of high-quality wines from several years, left in the barrel until they take on nutty, brown sugar, and vanilla flavors and a soft, silky texture. Long barrel aging also changes their color from deep ruby red to--well, tawny. …

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