Fortified Wines: What is Port?

Non Feature fortified wine port sherry madeira

Port is one of the world’s most famous forms of fortified wine and certainly Portugal’s most well known red wine. The drink has a long history of export to the UK and the wine has gained popularity in recent years further away in the US.

The History of Port

Unlike other wine merchants, those involved in the Port industry are often referred to as “shippers”, the term comes from the fact that in times past many were involved in the shipping of Port between Portugal and the UK or other parts of Europe. This is an important concept in the development of the drink.

The History of Port . Image by


The problem for shippers of the original wine from Portugal to the UK is that casks of the regions wine, ill treated could often undergo a second fermentation or oxidisation whilst being shipped. As such, this would lead to a wine, which when brought ashore was almost undrinkable.

The solution for producers was that they would “dose” the natural red wine of the Douro region with brandy to raise the alcohol level of the wine. As such, yeast is unable to carry on reacting once a certain level of alcohol is reached, thus preventing a second fermentation happening, even in poor shipping conditions. Whilst starting as a practical solution for the preservation of wine, this has now formed the basis for the manufacture of the modern drink Port.

Styles of Port

Styles of Port. Image by

There are many styles of Port available from young ruby ports to classic vintage port, here are the principals styles of port:

  • White Port – A fairly recent phenomenon, this Port is made in the same way as other Ports but with white grapes of the region. White Ports are usually served slightly chilled.
  • Ruby Port – This is a basic and inexpensive Port. As the name implies, the Port is a bright ruby red. Ruby Ports are fruity and young receiving almost no bottle aging.
  • Tawny Ports – One of the most popular types of Port, Tawny Ports come in both young and aged verities. Aged varieties typically come in age bands of 10, 20 and 30 years. Aged tawny Ports often have a much more complex flavour than younger forms of Port. As the name suggests these Ports are usually a tawny red brown colour.
  • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port – This is a form of Port which is aged for a significant amount of time in oak, rather than in the bottle. LBV Port is filtered before bottling and generally ready to drink on release. LBV Ports are good wines but will not stand up to the years of aging that a true vintage Port will.
  • Vintage Port – This is the top rank of the Port world. Vintages are only declared by shippers in exceptional years and all of the grapes used will be from a single year. Vintage Port is aged for a significant amount of time before being drunk and the result is a wine of exceptional complexity and power.


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