On a cold winter day, there is something so comforting and elegant about sipping a glass of port by the fire. The pleasure is enhanced by an understanding of the different varieties.
Port is a Portuguese fortified wine whose character is, like many wines, determined by the grapes used in its production and the method and length of its aging. It comes in three main varieties: white, ruby, and tawny.
White port, made from white grapes, can range from dry to very sweet. It makes a good aperitif, or it is ideal for cocktails like spritzers. Cooking with port often involves the use of a white port.
Ruby ports are the most common variety and often the most economical. When one thinks of port, the mental picture is often of a deep ruby red wine. Ruby ports are typically aged in oak barrels for 18 to 24 months before bottling.
Tawny ports do all of their aging in oak barrels, lending them a nutty flavor and rich amber color. They are aged from five to 40 years, then bottled.
If you are interested in exploring ports, you don’t have to break the bank to do so. “You don’t have to buy the Cadillac” your first time out, said George Punter, wine and beer manager for Dorothy Lane Market. There are a number of options that are affordable and a good drinking experience; experts like Punter can help you choose.
Ports pair well with foods that have distinct flavors, such as heavier cheeses, fruit, and dark chocolate. In addition, nut-based desserts pair well with tawny ports.
Punter also recommends using port as a very special future gift. If a child’s birth year is a particularly good year for ports, buy a bottle (or several) as a gift, to celebrate a future 21st birthday or wedding day.