Port Wines

Let's understand Port. 

Watch: Port Wines Explained

All Port is sweet and has alcohol of around 19% to 22%. They tend to have a “spirity” flavour which comes from the aguardente spirit used to fortify Ports. Most are red but you also get White Ports and since the early 2000s Rosé Port.

Red Ports are made from a blend of local grape varieties, including the increasingly internationally known Touriga Nacional.

There are many different types of red Ports and a multitude of labelling terms. A good way to understand Port labelling is to start with Tawny Port.

Tawny Port

Tawny Ports are Ports matured in the presence of oxygen, which means the flavours include toffee, chocolate, caramel, nuts and dried fruits. The older the Tawny Port the more intense the flavours (and the better the original wine).

Food Pairing

These wines are delicious served chilled as an aperitif or dessert wine. Pour them over ice cream or a meringue based dessert to give it extra oomph. Also wonderful with dry salty hard cheeses, like an aged gouda. Don’t forget chocolate, whether a rich chocolate cheesecake or quality rich chocolates.

How long will it keep?

Once open Tawny Ports can last for months stoppered in the fridge.

Vintage, Ruby, LBV, Crusted Ports


The other style of red Ports such as Vintage, Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and Crusted Ports are all ports which have been matured in bottle, meaning that oxygen has largely been excluded during maturation. 

This gives quite a different flavour profile to that of Tawny Ports. With these wines you get rich savoury and spicy flavours including tobacco, liquorice and cinnamon. As well as red and black fruits, ranging from ripe or stewed fruits, through to dried fruits as the wines age.

The highest quality (and price) are Vintage Ports, which have the year marked on the label. Vintages are declared by producers for particularly good years, when grape quality is high leading to high quality wines.

Ruby Ports are the lowest quality (and the cheapest). Flavours of Ruby ports tend to be dominated by stewed fruits and have less savoury and spicy complex flavours.

LBV Ports are a good quality alternative to Vintage Ports. A favourite is unfiltered LBV as it has more intense flavours. You will get sediment in the bottom of the bottle with unfiltered wines. The sediment is quite safe but not very tasty. Therefore take care when pouring your wine to stop when you get to the sediment so you don’t get any sediment in your glass (or decanter if you are using one).

Food Pairing

Vintage Port and Stilton are one of the archetypal food pairings. The savouriness in the blue of the cheese with the savoury flavours in the wine complement each other beautifully. It also pairs well with rich dark chocolate.

Ruby Ports pair well with rich creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert. 

How long will it keep?

Once open the flavours will start to deteriorate quite quickly. Keep in the fridge and ideally use a Vacu Vin or other devise to remove and exclude oxygen. Ideally drink within a few weeks of opening.

White Port

As with other Ports, White Ports are sweet. They can be aged or unaged, check what it says on the label. Aged in this case means it has been aged in the presence of oxygen. If it is unaged it will be lighter in colour with floral blossom aromas and stone fruit flavours like peach. If it is aged then these fruits mature into dried apricot, nuts and citrus peel.

Food Pairing

Delicious as an aperitif and dessert wine with fruity, creamy desserts, particularly where the fruit flavours in the food complement those in the port.

Lower alcohol cocktails

White Port is also great in cocktails and as a replacement for gin in a G&T. With the added benefit of being lower in alcohol than your standard G&T.

How long will it keep?

This depends on whether it is aged or not. In both cases keep it stoppered in the fridge. Aged White Port will last quite a few weeks, up to a month, whereas unaged White Port will start to lose its flavours in a week or so.

Rosé Port

These are usually fresh and light sweet fortified wines with lots of red berry fruit flavours.

Food Pairing and Cocktails

Very similar uses to White Port, with the red fruits make it idea with strawberry and raspberry desserts. Refreshing cocktail with ice and tonic and strawberry decoration.

How long will it keep?

These are not designed to be kept long and will start to lose their flavour. Keep in the fridge and ideally use a Vacu Vin or other devise to remove and exclude oxygen.

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