Most Vintage Ports enter their prime drinking window from their 20th year on, eventually reaching their peak later. 1977, one of the best Vintages of the second half of the 20th century, is possibly one of the most interesting options that comes to mind and its structure and concentration have been widely regarded as unparalleled. Despite this, you can't go far wrong with any of the 1980s trio: the 1980, 1983 or 1985. In addition, the 1994 Vintage is also an outstanding choice – the year produced monumental wines with rich fruit character and fantastic structure. They are beginning to drink very well now, but will continue to develop and improve for decades. Currently, the youngest 'declared' Vintages falling into that category are the 1997 and the 2000. The 1997s are known for their supreme elegance, floral aromas and seductive, silky palate. The 2000s, which were born in a year of very low yields, are remarkable for their beautiful black fruit flavours with hints of liquorice and kirsch; full, generous and well-rounded ripe fruit helps to create layers of complexity.
Most Crusted Ports benefit from 5 to 7 years of ageing in the bottle after being released, provided they’re kept in good conditions (laying down, constant cool temperature, away from strong light). It is difficult to say how long they can be stored as different wines may have different development paths. However, you probably shouldn’t keep it for more than 15 – 20 years (after the year of bottling shown on the label).
Both of those Vintages come from classic declared years. 2017 was much drier and generally hotter than 2011, and this shows in the form of a greater concentration as a result of the heat and the lower yields. The 2011 also has impressive structure, but it is all about elegance and finesse with stunning floral aromatics. Both years have remarkable acidity that shows through in the wines’ freshness and indicates they will both age very well.
As long as the decanter fulfils its function of aerating the wine effectively, its shape shouldn’t make a difference. Traditionally, ships decanters were used for Port - with a wide circumference at the base and a tapering neck. The wide base means a larger surface area of the wine is exposed to the air, allowing the Port’s remarkable aromas to be released more readily.
Vintage Port bottles should be kept lying on their sides in an environment of low humidity between 12 - 16 degrees Celsius. This allows the cork to be in contact with the wine (it swells and keeps the air out) and for the sediment to be evenly distributed. If these conditions are not guaranteed, the quality of the ageing process can be compromised. Having said that, a short amount of time standing up will do no harm to the wine.
The Douro Valley is a demarcated wine region, meaning that Port can only be produced within the designated area. The region varies from 90m to up to 600m above sea level. Above this altitude the necessary temperatures for the suitable maturation of grapes for producing Port wine do not regularly occur.
Ports are very flexible wines and white Port is a great example of that. White Port can be drunk on its own, ideally chilled, between 8-10˚C) or as a delicious and refreshing Port & Tonic (1/3rd White Port, 2/3rds tonic water, lime / lemon, mint and lots of ice). You can also use other mixers: passion fruit, lime or pineapple. A grapefruit garnish goes well with more aromatic White Ports. Salty peanuts or roasted almonds are great pairings. But don’t forget – the best way to drink a wine is however you enjoy it most!
Although both wines are from just one harvest (thus sharing the word ‘Vintage’) they are indeed very different. Most LBVs (Late Bottled Vintages) are aged from 4 to 6 years in wood and are ready to drink immediately with no decanting because they are filtered before bottling. Vintage Port is recognised as the finest type of Port and is only produced in exceptional years and from the best grapes. Vintage Ports are bottled 18 months after the harvest (with no filtration). Although people do drink them young, they can be kept for several decades, becoming increasingly refined, elegant, and complex.
Yes, there is a technique called «estabilização a frio» (cold stabilisation) which can be used for Ports and it is very similar to the chill-filtration method used for Whiskeys. Although they are different methods, they share the same objective, which is to remove sediment and impurities through a spontaneous crystallisation that happens at lower temperatures. Although some use this method, it can reduce colour and quality, so the more commonly preferred method amongst Port producers is gentle filtration.
This is one of the hard questions because we have to count them! There are two broad groups of Port (with 10 different categories according to the Port Wine Institute (IVDP)): Wood Matured – consisting of Ruby, Tawny, White, Rosé, Reserve Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage, Aged Tawny (10, 20, 30 and 40 Years Old) and Colheita (Single Harvest Aged Tawny Ports). Bottle Matured – consisting of traditional Late Bottle Vintage and Vintage Port.
It is difficult to give a definite answer as much comes down to personal preference. In terms of Vintage Ports that are drinking beautifully now, you can't go far wrong with any of the 1980s trio: the 1980, 1983 or 1985. The 1994 Vintage is also an outstanding choice - the year produced monumental wines with fabulous rich fruit character and fantastic structure. They are beginning to drink very well now but will continue to develop and improve for decades more. From more recent years, 2011 must also be mentioned: it was an extraordinary year and considered by many as one of the best in recent history. Again, you are spoiled for choice because the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 declarations also produced sensationally good Vintage Ports. Moral of story? Don't put all your eggs in the one basket. For drinking now, try the 1980; for drinking at its best in about 5 year's time, get some 1994 and for long term ageing lay down some 2011, 2016 or 2017.
In our experience Coravin works very well with Vintage Port. However, because you won’t be decanting the wine, we recommend pouring through a funnel and gauze to catch any sediment - especially for Vintage Ports with more than 20 years of bottle age. @Coravin also produce a Vintage Needle for bottles with older corks which may be more fragile. This needle is thinner than the normal one. Perhaps they can share their advice on whether they would recommend using the narrower needle with older Vintage Ports or their normal needle!
Crusted Port is a blend of two or three harvests, aged in wood for up to two years and bottled without any fining or filtration, just like a Vintage Port. The only date that you have to consider is the year of bottling (which appears on the label) and the wine may be released up to three years after bottling. It is sometimes called a 'British Port' because it was originally created specifically for the British market in the early 20th century. Like Vintage Ports, you can choose to either drink them young or keep them cellared for a number of years. And like VPs they need decanting. As Vintage Port is quite rare and released in very small quantities, Crusted Port can be an affordable alternative for those who are not so patient!
Within the range of Vintage Ports there are some that inevitably have greater ageing capability than others. Each year has different characteristics of structure, concentration, acidity and phenolic compounds. In addition, different Vintage Ports are produced using different grape varieties with different levels of concentration. All of these factors can determine the rate of colour change. In addition, if a bottle of Vintage Port is not stored in the ideal conditions of temperature, humidity, light and position (lying on its side), the pigmentation of the wine can change faster than it normally would.
Yes, they can. It is up to the winemaker to make the decision whether to use Colheita stock in a blend or bottle it as a 'single harvest' Tawny Port. Usually Colheitas are released when a specific year's Tawny Ports evolve in an outstanding way. The best years are monitored closely and are kept apart to enable them to be bottled as a premium Colheita (Single Harvest Tawny) in small quantities. However, the winemaker can at any point choose to blend that stock into a 10, 20, 30 or 40 Year Old Tawny Port.
With blended Tawny Ports (10 Year Olds, 20 Year Olds, etc) the tasting room team are trying to achieve a consistent house style. The fact that they can use wines from different years, so long as the average is at least the age of the category communicated on the label, as well as different grape varieties, gives them lots of options to maintain that Port house's characteristics. In addition, different Port houses have different ageing techniques (type and size of barrels, etc). By staying true to these, they are able to achieve consistent characteristics from year to year with their Tawny blends.
There are 115 different grape varieties authorised for Port production, which are classified as "recommended" or "authorised". The vast majority of them are indigenous Portuguese varieties, which makes sense as they are well-adapted to our local terroir. Portugal has the third highest number of identified indigenous grape varieties of any country in the world, and many of these varieties are from the Douro.
Barrel-aged Ports - be they Aged Whites or Aged Tawnies - are not intended for bottle maturation and should be drunk relatively quickly once bottled. Whites do not have the structure or tannins needed for a long ageing in the bottle. However, given your 1989 was bottled in 2018, it will retain its quality for a few years. Nevertheless, we recommend you drink it relatively soon! Only a few Port styles (Vintage, Crusted Ports or traditional LBVs) have the potential to age in the bottle as they are not filtered and will continue to improve and evolve as they slowly age in contact with the sediment.
Interestingly, the rate of micro-oxidation of the Port through the barrel reduces the volume of water and alcohol in roughly equal proportions. With very old Aged Tawny Ports, a slight alcohol correction is sometimes needed and this is done by adding wine from another barrel, to achieve the regulated alcohol level. A related point is that Tawny Ports lose considerable volume through evaporation (up to 20% in the first 10 years in barrel). The winemakers top up this volume with wine from the same year (or a similar year, in the case of the blended Tawnies). The Port Wine Institute has clear rules that all Port houses must follow when topping up. According to the most recent data (2019) released by IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto), there is a total of 43.608 hectares of vineyard in the Douro Valley, from which 42.422 ha are within the "Região Demarcada do Douro" (demarcated region) legal frame.
According to the IVDP (the Port Wine Institute), in 2019 there were 43,500 hectares of vineyard in the Douro Valley farmed by 20,370 individual farmers. The exact number of registered producers depends on how you interpret the different types of 'operators' legally classified by the IVDP (including bottlers and warehouse operators). The 2019 report shows there are 1121 registered operators in the Douro, 239 of them for specifically for Port. You can check out the data yourself at ivdp.pt > statistics.
The ideal temperature range (of the place) to store port is between 14°C and 16°C (i.e. medium to long-term storage). If the storage location is occasionally subject to a couple of degrees below or above this range, no harm will come of it. Constancy of temperature is especially important, so avoid places subject to sudden and/or frequent temperature swings. Aim for levels of humidity of around 60 - 70%. Keep the port away from direct sources of light, especially sunlight. Bottles of Vintage Port should be laid horizontally to keep the cork moist and the bottle airtight. The longer the wine is stored, the more you should try to follow these recommendations.
'Douro Bake' is a term used to describe the aroma and taste profile that Ports aged in the Douro Valley can develop. The climate in the Douro is hotter and drier than on the Atlantic coast, and this means higher evaporation and consequently more concentrated wines. These can sometimes taste richer, more 'baked' compared to ports aged in the cooler conditions of the Gaia lodges. It’s not a flaw or defect (unless its effects are excessive). Rather it is the result of different ageing conditions, which can develop a 'nose' and flavours that some may appreciate. Some Ports with Douro bake can, however, lack some freshness and balance.
In the 1990s there were two general (sometimes called 'classic') Vintage Port declarations: 1994 and 1997. Both were outstanding and are now drinking very well, although both retain considerable further ageing potential. 1997 had a bit of everything weather-wise; parts of the Douro had snow in early winter but then well above average temperatures in February and March. However, a comparatively cool spring and summer delayed growth and led to a late starting vintage. This meant a long growing season that favoured gradual, even ripening, which delivered balanced maturations and very high quality grapes. 1997 Vintage Ports are beautifully balanced wines showing great structure, complexity and elegance. They are a little less muscular and concentrated than the 1994s and are more about understatement and poise.
Generally speaking, most Vintage Ports enter their prime drinking window from their 20th year and it is important to stress that this is when they begin to enter their prime — but by no means reach their peak. Most Vintage Ports from classic declarations will remain at their peak for extensive periods and that peak may only be reached when they are between 25 and 30 years old. Currently, the youngest ('declared') Vintages falling into that category are the 1997 and the 2000. If one brings Single Quinta Vintage Ports into this equation then younger wines, such as the 2004, 2006 and 2008 are worthy candidates (Single Quinta Vintages are normally ready to drink sooner than generally declared — 'classic' — Vintage Ports). Enjoy the 1997s for their supreme elegance, floral aromas and seductive, silky palate. The 2000s were born in a year of very low yields so here you will have beautiful black fruit flavours, with hints of liquorice and kirsch — full and generous, albeit well-rounded ripe fruit offering layers of complexity.
Tawny ports are wood-aged ports and once bottled they are ready to be consumed and further ageing potential is limited. All their ageing and development has occurred in seasoned oak casks and, as such, they are not meant to be aged further. For a twenty-year-old tawny we recommend that the port be consumed within two years of bottling. It will remain in good condition for some years longer but it won't have the balance, elegance and freshness that a recently bottled 20-year-old tawny displays. Technically a 20 Year-Old Tawny will still be a 20YO even twenty years after it was bottled, but it won't be the same wine.
Vintage Ports should always be decanted to remove the natural sediment in the bottle and to allow the wine's aromas to express themselves. To allow the wine to fully open up, ideally you would decant at least 2-3 hours before drinking. Some people prefer to decant their Vintage Ports the day before they serve them and others give them even longer in the decanter. Typically the wine will remain in great condition for the first 2-3 days before beginning to decline as a result of oxidation.
We are the largest organic vineyard owners in the Douro Valley and although the majority of grapes grown in them are used for table wines (like the Altano Douro Organic Red), some are also used for Port production. Graham's Natura Reserve Port is made from organically farmed grapes grown on 10 hectares which are fully organically certified at Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos. Furthermore, all other vineyards are managed under an environmentally friendly minimum intervention regime called Integrated Crop Management.
The 2011 was hailed as the finest Vintage Port declaration of the 21st century and deservedly so as the wines are exceptional. Wine critics around the world poured praise on the wines and it's no surprise that they sold out swiftly. A bigger gap than usual then followed until the next general declaration — the 2016, another outstanding Vintage, which is arguably on a par with the 2011. Both years shared the tell-tale climatic pattern which normally signals a Vintage year: wet winters and hot, dry summers — winter rainfall sustaining the vines during the summer. Both 2011 and 2016 are impressive wines with incredible staying power. Wait until they're 20 years old before drinking them or enjoy them just past their first decade in bottle (if you must!).
1985 produced rich, concentrated, and aromatic Ports with great ageing potential. It was a generally 'declared' Vintage year - what is commonly referred to as a Classic Vintage. Most 1985 Vintage Ports are now peaking, but blockbusters such as the Taylor's (and the Dow's, Graham's and Fonseca) will continue to develop for up to another decade or so. Those 33 years in the bottle (following two in wood) have softened the tannins and given a refinement and complexity that only time can bestow. You will be equally rewarded if you open your bottle now or in the next few years.
Essentially, the benefício is the proportion of the total wine produced each year in the Douro Demarcated Region that may be made as port. The industry's governing body, the IVDP (Port and Douro Wines Institute) sets an annual cap (expressed in pipes — port barrels of approximately 550 litres) on how much of the region's total wine production becomes port, thus establishing the benefício. Grapes with the benefício generally fetch a higher price than those for Douro (dry) wine and growers are therefore keen to hold on to their benefício. Criteria for setting the annual benefício range from quality considerations (some vineyards have higher gradings than others); stock levels, market conditions, and so forth.
All wines - Ports included - have volatile flavour compounds and naturally occurring volatile acids, principally acetic acid. It is when the latter rises to unacceptably high levels that the wine is said to be volatile (and therefore unpleasant or even undrinkable). A wine can become excessively volatile if poorly stored, under higher (and/or inconstant) temperatures. This sometimes causes the cork to dry, allowing air to enter the bottle. The resulting exposure to air, if unchecked, will spoil the wine.
All ports held in stock by a producer — irrespective of their particular style or quality — are considered together when calculating the (maximum) one third of that stock that they are allowed to sell each year. In other words, in any one year, a Port producer may only sell up to one third of the total stock of wine ageing in wood or bottle in the lodges. This ´lei do terço' (law of the third) was introduced almost a century ago to ensure that Ports were aged for a minimum period of time and also to safeguard the industry's stability (dissuading speculators who would think twice about the huge capital commitment of having to keep back two pipes of port for every pipe sold).
Vintage Port should be stored lying on its side, with the liquid in contact with the cork, at a stable temperature below 15ºC (60ºF) - and it's especially important that the wine does not experience any drastic temperature shifts. If it's possible, we would therefore recommend that you store your Vintage Port in a cooler cellar.
Aged tawnies with an indication of age of 10, 20 and 30 years are blended wines, made up of high quality production from different harvests and aged solely in seasoned oak casks. The age indication of 10, 20 or 30 years refers to the average age of the wine in the bottle and in almost every case the wine is actually a fraction older than indicated, as port producers err on the side of caution by ensuring that the average age of the wine is actually a little above the age shown on the label. With 40 year old tawnies, the Port Wine Institute (IVDP) lays down more specific regulations, requiring that the youngest wine in the blend is at least 40 years old. That's why on the label of a 40 year old tawny you will often see the term "More than" preceding "40 Years of Age”.
Port tongs are used to open old to very old Vintage Port bottles. Using this device, heated to a very at extremely high (near to red hot) temperature and then tightening it around the bottle neck (below the level of the cork) will create a neat crack in the glass (briefly apply a wet cloth around the neck to ensure a clean, neat crack). The idea is to bypass the cork, which may not be easy to remove in bottles that are more than 40 to 50 years old. Even with younger Vintages, if the cork shows signs of crumbling (which can happen if the port hasn't been stored in the best conditions), there is no reason why you shouldn't use tongs. Take special care not to burn yourself!
Although most wines benefit (to differing extents) from bottle ageing, filtered ports, including Tawnies, are not designed to age in the bottle. After being matured in wood, Tawnies are fined and filtered making them ready to enjoy immediately but limiting their further potential for ageing. As their development has already occurred in seasoned oak casks, they are not meant to age any longer and we recommend they are enjoyed within two years of bottling.
The benefício is the proportion of the total wine produced each year in the Douro Demarcated Region that may be sold as Port. Quantities are reviewed and set annually and this system, which is closely linked to the rating of individual vineyards, ensures that only very good grapes can be used for the port wine production, safeguarding the quality of the finished product. As the main objective of the benefício is protecting Port’s reputation we wouldn't say it is outdated but, on the contrary, a necessary tool for winegrowers in the Douro.
We have definitely observed a variety of shifts in the Douro's viticulture due to climate change in recent years. The annual average temperature in the Douro has increased (1.3ºC between 1967 and 2010) predominantly because the winters are getting warmer. The vegetative cycle of the vines tends to be activated sooner, making the maturation periods shorter which subsequently results in earlier harvests - in 2017 we had the earliest harvest on record. Although the Douro Valley has very resistant grape varietals (which are used to extreme weather conditions) and a morphology which allows avoiding higher temperatures (namely by moving parcels up the mountain), the threat is real and action is needed to prevent the region from significant future harm.
The Douro Valley has a large number of indigenous grape varieties which contribute in very different ways to the final blend – this diversity is a part of the Douro’s uniqueness. The Tourigas (Nacional and Franca) are very concentrated and add much structure. The Nacional in particular is considered the backbone of most blends and it can also be very aromatic (rose and violet aromas). Tinta Roriz normally contributes with impressive tannic structure and fruit flavours, while Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão, being less concentrated, add finesse and elegance. On the other hand, the spicy black peppery flavours in some ports are a characteristic of Tinto Cão.
During the harvest, the winemaker will begin to build a picture of the characteristics of the year and the quality potential of the wines. He or she will begin to screen and grade the wines, earmarking specific batches to be made into the various categories of port. The wines will be regularly assessed to ascertain which lots are better suited to age in bottle (Vintage) and which will age and develop to advantage in wood (Single Harvest). After the wines' first two winters, a decision is made regarding the declaration of a Vintage and if this goes ahead, some of the finest lots are bottled as Vintage Port. Other high quality wines, deemed to be best suited to age in wood, will become Single Harvest Tawnies or 'Colheitas'.
It's very much a matter of personal taste, some prefer the standard White Port (at the sweeter end of the taste spectrum), while others prefer the Dry White Port (or even the extra dry white). Both styles are delicious aperitifs and make for one of the most refreshing summer long drinks that you can enjoy, served with tonic water, poured over cubes of ice and garnished with a slice of lemon or lime and a sprig of mint leaf. As the tonic water has quite a sharp taste, some argue that the sweeter white port acts as a counter to this, bringing a more balanced taste to the drink which can (for some) be a tad on the bitter side. Ideally, experiment with both and decide for yourself which style you think is most appropriate.
Port producers all have their own 'house style'; some make drier tasting ports whilst others are known for a richer style, for example. This house style has been developed through many generations of house winegrowers and winemakers. In part, they can 'control' what the final wine tastes like by using their house 'recipe', by which they know which particular lots of wine they need to blend together to arrive at a specific taste. This is especially important for aged tawnies with an age indication (10, 20, 30 and 40 year old tawnies).Here, the producer aims for consistency of style over time because the consumer expects his/her preferred 20 Year Old Tawny (to name just one) to taste the same, irrespective of whether they buy a bottle tomorrow, or a year from now. When creating a new wine, however, the winemaking team can allow their imagination and creativity to work some magic. They will outline a general profile of what they want to achieve (drier, fruitier, nuttier, fresher, etc), searching then for the right components (different grape varieties, for instance) that will deliver the tasting profile and style of wine they seek. These 'ingredients' can also be defined/identified simply by a knowledge of the specific vineyard parcel a wine is made from.
Ideally, we would see a picture of the bottle in question to give you an accurate answer. From your description though, it does appear that you have a leaking bottle, and if that is indeed the case we strongly advise you to open it and drink the contents as soon as possible. By keeping it further, the bottle may continue to leak, and may also be letting in air, which will adversely affect the wine. If in doubt, it's always better to open the bottle and hope for the best. Quite often, the contents are still very drinkable. Port is one of the most forgiving wines there is. Remember that Vintage Port is best consumed within two or three days after uncorking (if it is a Vintage Port you are referring to).
Traditionally, port is served in dedicated fortified wine glasses. However, at School of Port we recommend the use of white wine glasses: they are more widely available and allow the wine to breathe and more fully release the aromas. As ports can be very complex wines, with several layers of aromas and flavours, we believe the wine benefits more from a broader glass such as the white wine one.
What we know for sure is that the 2020 harvest has been one of the most challenging that we can remember. Although there was adequate rainfall in winter and spring, the summer was exceptionally dry and at times very hot indeed, and this resulted in greatly diminished yields. While there is lot less wine, the grapes coming into the wineries, particularly Touriga Nacional, have been of very high quality with wonderful colour, concentration and aromas. It is, nevertheless, premature to say that 2020 will be a Vintage year. School of Port is as curious as you are! Watch this space!
This year's growing cycle was very precocious because of a very mild winter that brought forward by three weeks the start of the vines' growth cycle. A hot summer hastened the maturation and ripening of the grapes, which contributed to a very early starting vintage. The heat and lack of rain provoked some dehydration of the vines and this was reflected in much lower yields. This shorter crop and the fact that the various grape varieties pretty much all ripened in unison (very unusual in the Douro), meant the harvest was fast-paced and brief. After some initial apprehension because of the extraordinary conditions that this harvest brought, producers throughout the Douro are reporting that some very good wines have been made, albeit in much smaller quantities than normal (yields are down by as much as 50% in some areas).
Besides tasting the wines, you can learn more about each producer's individual 'house style' by understanding how their vineyards and winemaking define their wines' profiles. The Douro has many micro-terroirs, largely shaped by the fact it is a mountainous region with great variances in altitude and aspect, both of which influence the style of wines produced and other aspects like rainfall and temperatures. Other factors such as the grape varieties used (some producers favour specific blending 'recipes‘) and vinification (shorter or longer) also play a big role.
In terms of Vintage Ports that are drinking beautifully now, as advised by the School of Port team on previous occasions, you can’t go wrong with the 1980s trio: the 1980, ‘83 or ‘85. They are all wonderfully mature wines that have reached the pinnacle of their development. In terms of complexity of flavours, incredible aromas, refinement, silky texture and exquisite balance, the 1980 is highly recommended. Equally good, but noticeably more youthful in profile is the 1994, an outstanding Vintage, drinking beautifully now but with two to three decades of ageing potential ahead of it. Early 21st century (2001, 2004, 2005) single quinta Vintage Ports are also drinking very well now.
Yes, it is! School of Port is a project by Symington Family Estates which aims to educate globally on port wine and the Douro. Although most of our content is designed for wine professionals, this tool is open to anyone who wants to know more about the Douro Valley terroir, port's production, style and categories as well as food pairing and selling tips.
It's all about maintaining the proper balance between technology and tradition, embracing the former whilst not excluding the latter. In the Douro Valley, successful producers have struck the right balance. So-called precision viticulture is now practised by a growing number of winemakers in the Douro; using all the advanced tools that science offers, whilst never abandoning empirical knowledge accrued over many generations — this way they have the 'best of both worlds.' As climate change becomes an unavoidable reality, advances in viticulture are helping producers to adapt, not only to mitigate the effects of higher temperatures and drier conditions, but also to ensure they can continue to make wines sustainably. Quality is not compromised; quite the opposite, not only is it safeguarded but also increased.
Port is a very versatile wine and may be a great pairing for starters and many desserts and even, some main courses. It is a very rich, concentrated and intense wine, so we should pair it with foods where one will not overpower the other. The family of Ruby ports (Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage, Vintage and Crusted ports) are particularly good with foods which favour contrasts (blue and semi-cured cheeses, dark chocolate, some spicy dishes). Tawnies, on the other hand, are perfect matches for sweet desserts, such as apple crumble and apple pie, fruit cake, vanilla ice cream, as well as egg-based desserts like crème brûlée and 'pastel de nata' - Portuguese custard cakes, etc. They can also be great combinations with salty dishes and antipasti like oysters, hard cheeses, patés, or cured meats. Due to their amazing freshness and acidity, white ports pair wonderfully with fresh starters (ceviche, salads, petiscos) as well as olives and salted roasted almonds.
Vintage ports are indeed wines with remarkable ageing potential and many enter their prime drinking window from their 20th year, which is the case of your Vesuvio 2000. The wine should now be starting its ideal drinking period. There are some possible explanations of why your wine feels 'off': a tainted cork; bottle not stored lying down (meaning the cork isn't kept moist and can dry up); bottle subject to temperature fluctuations, etc. Wines destined for ageing need to be stored in a relatively dark and cool place (with a reasonably constant temperature) and adequate levels of humidity (not too damp, not too dry). Can you describe what you mean by 'off' and whether this extends to both the smell and the taste?
There is a greater demand from Whiskey producers for seasoned ('old') port casks than port producers are willing to part with. They provide Malt Whiskeys with wonderful aromas, flavours and colour. The tawny family of ports (wines aged in wood which take on a tawny colour) are aged in seasoned oak casks (called 'pipes' in the port trade) for several decades and the older the wood the better, because well-seasoned wood gradually and slowly imparts complex aromas and flavours to the maturing wine. This is why port producers still rely heavily on the art of cooperage to maintain and repair oak casks for as long as possible. The average age of a seasoned oak cask used for ageing premium port ranges from 70 to 90 years and they are only at the end of their life (often over a century old) when it is no longer feasible to maintain them.
Port is a sweet fortified wine which means is has natural preservatives (natural grape sugar and alcohol), and is more stable than dry wines, and it does remain in good condition after opening the bottle for considerably longer than most other wines. The fact that most ports are aged in wood (by micro oxidation, because the barrels' wooden staves have some porosity) means that they do not (adversely) react to contact with air as quickly as dry wines do. Depending on the storage conditions, most ports will remain in fine condition for drinking up to 6 or or so weeks after opening. There is one exception to this: Vintage Port (and other bottle-matured ports). Because they are aged in bottle with large driven corks, they mature for long periods with no contact with oxygen. To enjoy them at their best, they should be consumed within two to three days after the bottle is uncorked.
Vintage Port should be stored at a stable temperature around 15ºC (60ºF), away from bright light and lying on its side. If the wine has been stored at a very low temperature (in the fridge), wait at least half an hour after decanting it for it to warm up to the ideal drinking temperature (14ºC - 18ºC / 57ºF - 65ºF). On the other hand, consider chilling it after decanting if necessary.
For this New Year, we recommend a 20 Year Old Tawny Port. It's a sweet, delightful wine (like 2020 wasn't!) and the result of the perfect balance between the ageing notes from its time inside the barrel (let it represent the wisdom of the elderly) and the freshness of its youth (being the energy and hope from the younger) - everything that we need for 2021! Oh, and apart from that, it pairs beautifully with raisins for the New Year countdown!
Looking to the 90's; 1991, 1994 and 1997 are commonly considered the best Vintage years of the decade. 1991 was the first declared Vintage for six years, the longest gap between declarations for decades. It's an excellent, richly coloured and aromatic wine. On the other hand, 1994 produced classic, monumental wines with fabulous rich fruit character and fantastic structure. The last generally declared Vintage Port of the 20th century - 1997 - produced full-bodied and harmonious wines. Although choosing a 'top Vintage year' is always difficult and a matter of personal preference, we would say that 1994 - for its structure, ageing potential and longevity - is probably the unforgettable one of the decade.
Yes, it does. Oxidation is the chemical reaction in which a chemical compound loses electrons. The specific enzyme which catalyses phenolic oxidation works poorly under cold temperatures, like in a refrigerator, which slows this process considerably. However, it's important to stress that it does not stop it: refrigeration slows wine oxidation down but it does not block it!
The first signs are often in the vineyard, even before the grapes have been picked. The final ripening stage before the harvest is critical and we are looking for balance between sugar levels and acidity in the berries, as well as good phenolic development (colour, tannins, aromas). During the fermentations, deep colour, concentration and fragrant aromas are very positive signs of a great wine in the making. Once the wine is made, the telltale signs of a potentially great vintage are inky black colour, concentration balanced by freshness (the acidity is a hallmark of longevity) and ironclad structure (abundant, polished tannins).
Port is a very versatile wine which - sure thing! - can be used for cooking. We would say the 'best' type of port depends both on your personal taste and what you're cooking specifically. Ruby port can be used for stewed or roasted red meat; Tawnies suit deliciously with fried meat on caramelised nuts & noodles; White port can be amazing for cooking: try making a reduction with it adding some white wine, a bit of lemon juice, herbs and garlic - it'll be a fantastic topping on fresh fish!
Remember that only bottled-aged (and unfiltered) ports need to be decanted: Vintage Port, Single Quinta Vintage Port, Bottle-matured/unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port and Crusted Port. These ports gradually precipitate a sediment in the bottle and need decanting so that the deposit doesn't reach one's glass. It's also advisable to decant so that these ports can release all their wonderful, complex aromas developed during their long ageing. As long as the decanter fulfils its function of aerating the wine effectively, its shape doesn't make much difference. Ship's decanters, traditionally used for port (with a wide circumference at the base and a tapering neck), do have the advantage of exposing the wine more effectively to air, therefore more readily releasing the aromas.
No, it can't. Currently the only legally permitted format for port is glass bottles. Port, like all fine wines should be placed in glass bottles. Due to its neutral nature, glass is the ideal material for prolonged ageing of port because it doesn't influence in any way its characteristics (aroma, flavour, longevity).
Yes, many different kinds of cheese make excellent pairings with port. Blue cheeses are undoubtedly a great (classic!) match, particularly with Vintage Port (also Quinta Vintage Ports and Crusted Ports). Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, etc are fantastic accompaniments to Vintage Port. These rich, well structured ports balance well with the strong taste profile of these cheeses. The wine and cheese complement and bring out the best in each other. Highly recommended! Other milder cheeses, such as Cheddar, Manchego and cream cheeses like Brie, Camembert, etc make very good pairings with Tawny ports (10 and 20 Year Old Tawnies are perfect).
As mentioned on previous occasions, most Vintage Ports enter their prime drinking window from their 20th year, many eventually reaching their peak decades later. This means, given the specific progression of different Vintages, that the 1970 is now drinking perfectly. It is one of the finest Vintage Ports of the second half of the twentieth century. Some 1970s may be tiring slightly, but the best will be drinking beautifully. You may save it for a special occasion or make the occasion special yourself. As long as you feel it's the right moment, any moment can be perfect to enjoy such an incredible wine. Bear in mind this port has now peaked, so don't wait too much longer. Don't forget to decant your Vintage Port, ideally at least an hour before serving it. Share it with family or friends and make sure you finish the bottle within 2 - 3 days! That shouldn't pose a problem — right?!
First of all we'd like to stress that individual tastes and food pairing are obviously very personal. Certain combinations work for some people and don't work for others. Still, here's our suggestion - a port sauce reduction with a Ruby style port: In a pot, put Ruby style port and red wine together (50/50) adding 4 or 5 garlic cloves, some rosemary and/or thyme. Let it boil until you have about 1/3 of the original liquid volume left. Don't forget to filter the reduction before using i. This can be served with a pan fried (in this case do not use any oil – start cooking the breast from the fatty side) or grilled duck breast and some roasted veggies / potatoes. Pair it with LBV or a young Vintage Port.
It's difficult to name the single biggest challenge - as port producers currently face numerous - from adapting to climate change, to ensuring a new generation learns the skills to keep the crafts alive, and the high costs of production not being reflecting in the price of the wine. Perhaps the most urgent is the environmental challenge. With erratic rainfall, more intense summer heatwaves, and soil erosion, port producers are having to adapt to new conditions that mean it's increasingly challenging to produce wine in the Douro.
Yes, there is! You can take School of Port's first training module, The Essentials, which is a free online workshop about port & the Douro. If you're interested, please email [email protected] A video version of this module will soon be available on SoP's website, allowing you to take the course in your own time. Stay tuned!
Port and sherry are both fortified wines, meaning a distilled spirit has been added during the fermentation process. But that's where the similarities end. Here are some of the main differences between them: Port is made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and other grape varieties, while sherry is produced from varietals such as Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel - each of these varieties determines the type of sherry that is produced, which is not the case for port. Climate conditions in the two demarcated regions are very different. For example, the Douro has very hot and dry summers while in Jeréz de la Frontera summer temperatures are balanced by the Atlantic. Port can be aged in seasoned wood (vats or barrels) or bottle which determines its style, whereas sherry ages through a unique system called solera. The solera system consists of stacking barrels up, putting the younger wines in the upper rows and older wines in the lower ones. As the wines ages, it goes down the 'steps' until the ageing is complete.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, especially when selling in new, developing markets is education. There are several families of ports with many categories, and this may be quite confusing to newcomers to port. Furthermore, port is a fortified wine, but many may perceive it as more of a liquor (because of its rich, sweet taste and higher alcohol content than a dry wine). We have to show people that it is first and foremost a very fine wine. In the fast-paced world, fashions change all the time and there are many alcoholic beverages on offer, many competing with port. Port has to find its niche and appeal to new generations of drinkers (who sometimes regard it as old-fashioned). It's about making port relevant to people's everyday lives, showing them what an informal drink it can be (no better wine that to unwind after a ling tiring day...).
By 'dumb' phase we are assuming that this is the long period during which Vintage Ports settle into their 'hibernation', i.e. ageing period in bottle roughly between their 4th and 12th year, during which a Vintage Port settles down for prolonged development in bottle. Opening a bottle during this stage may prove premature because the wine hasn't aged fully and may seem shy, reserved, closed (hence the term 'dumb'). The grape varieties that form the principal backbone of great, long-lasting Vintage Ports are primarily the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, with other complementary varieties, like the Sousão, buttressing the staying power through the acidity it provides (freshness and balance). To get through the dumb phase and carry on ageing for many more years, these are the fundamental varieties (although by no means the only varieties that go into a Vintage Port blend).
Vintage Port is a very complex wine, usually with great concentration of aromas and layers of flavours. Therefore, all vintages - even young ones - benefit from some aeration serving. In the case of a young Vintage Port - say younger than 10 years of age - decanting it a couple of hours to allow it to breath is sufficient. Some older Vintage Ports, say from 20 to 30 years (and more) benefit by being decanted several hours before serving to fully release and liberate the incredible aromas and flavours that have been locked inside the bottle for decades.
There are two kinds of Late Bottled Vintage Ports: Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): the majority of LBVs available in the high street are wines that are aged solely in wood, primarily large oak vats, and bottled between their fourth and sixth year (hence the term 'late bottled', because declared Vintage Ports are bottled in their second year). These LBVs are filtered prior to bottling, which makes them very easy to serve as no decanting is necessary. Because they have been aged in wood, they have had some contact with oxygen, and once open, will remain in good condition for up to six weeks, although we recommend that to enjoy at its best, the wine should be consumed within a month. Traditional LBV: Some producers still make traditional LBV, meaning wines that are bottled unfiltered, after four rather than five or six years. After bottling, these LBVs will age for at least a further four years (longer is usual) in bottle before being offered for sale. They will show on the label the term 'unfiltered' or 'bottle-matured' (or both). The wine has to be decanted and like a declared Vintage Port, it should be consumed within two to three days.
Technically, the short answer is no. The Port and Douro Wine Institute, port's official regulatory body, stipulates that ports must be made from at least four grape varieties. Even if this wasn't laid down as a legal requirement, the fact is most — if not all — producers would always use more than one variety in the composition of their port blends. There are just over 100 officially recognised grape varieties that can be planted in the Douro Valley. The region is characterised by a wealth of micro-terroirs, influenced and shaped by varying altitudes, aspect (vineyard orientation), climate, soil — and grape varieties. Specific grape varieties are best suited to certain locations and port has always been about blending several varieties to achieve the complexity, depth and breadth for which ports are prized. Perhaps the closest one may get to a single varietal port is when the wine is made from a field blend (vineyards — usually older ones — where all the varieties are planted together in the same parcels). In some field blends there is sometimes a predominant variety.
Yes and no (!?) — depending on the category. Tawny Ports with an age indication — 10, 20, 30 and 40-Year-Old —, are blends of wines from different harvests, whose average age is shown on the label (10, 20, 30 or 40 years). These are indeed blended following a house style so that, over time, a customer can always return to his/her favourite old tawny port in the knowledge that it will have the same, constant profile. The other old tawny category — aged tawnies from a single year — are quite the opposite. These are the Colheita (Portuguese for 'harvest') ports, also known as Single Harvest Tawny, and are wines from a single year, aged in oak casks for prolonged periods and not blended with wines of other years. Therefore, they reflect the characteristics of the year in which they were made, rather than being an expression of the house style. These wine are unique, in that once the batch is bottled the wine will never quite be replicated.
The Benefício is attributed to each Douro farmer in accordance with a grading system which classifies his/her particular vineyard into different quality categories, rated from a descending scale from A to I. This is based on a set of criteria which include site, altitude, aspect, gradient, exposure, etc. The higher the letter ranking, the higher the proportion of grapes that a farmer is allowed to make into Port. This system is therefore an individual authorisation based on the specific attributes of each vineyard and it is therefore, by definition, non-transferable between farmers. In exceptional circumstances, the Interprofessional Council of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), Port’s governing body, may authorise a transfer of production rights from one farmer to another. This is extremely rare and is only considered in extraordinary cases, for example, in the event of a farmer losing his crop through natural causes such as a severe climatic event. These instances are rigorously analysed and decided on a case by case basis by the IVDP.
In absolute volume terms, the entry-level Ruby and Tawny (three-year-old ports) are the most widely sold. But this doesn't give an accurate picture of port's consumption trends. Increasingly, consumers are enjoying premium ports such as the Reserve Ruby and Reserve Tawny as well as the LBVs, which in leading markets such as the UK are best-sellers. This is hardly surprising as these wines are very fairly priced, especially when you consider how much quality they deliver at the price point. In some countries, such as the USA, aged tawny ports have also grown in popularity over the last couple of decades or so. These are incredibly versatile and equally enjoyable served as aperitifs or after meals, on their own or with dessert/cheese — all year round.
The Douro Demarcated Region has an impressive number of mainly indigenous grape varieties, and this diversity is undoubtedly one of the region's greatest assets. For all wines officially certified as having been produced in the demarcated region, there are 115 different varieties that winemakers can work with.For port wine specifically, the total number of permitted grape varieties is 116. Of these, 29 are indicated as 'recommended' (16 classified as very good and 13 classified as good) and 87 are considered 'authorised'. There are other wine categories from the region such as ’Vinho do Douro’ or ’Vinho Regional’ which can include a few additional varieties, but broadly speaking it is a very similar list.
Port, as any other fine wine, should ideally be stored somewhere with a cool and constant temperature, preferably no higher than 18ºC / 64.4ºF — and away from sunlight. In particular, wines that are designed for prolonged ageing in bottle, such as Vintage Ports, should be stored at a stable temperature, at or around 15ºC / 59ºF. Temperature fluctuations are just as bad for wines as storage under relatively high temperatures, so you should look to avoid pronounced and constant temperature swings, just as much as high storage temperatures. Higher temperatures will accelerate and compromise the ageing process and knock the wines off balance. Wines stored under such conditions may well not fulfil their full potential and may taste 'cooked', 'flat' and unbalanced.
The best introduction to port (and the Douro region), and almost certainly the most widely available is: - PORT AND THE DOURO by Richard Mayson. Other worthy reads on your way to becoming #schoolofportgeeks, are: - 'Rich, Rare and Red', by Ben Howkins - 'The Port Companion', by Godfrey Spence. For Portuguese readers: - História do Douro e do Vinho do Porto (Gaspar Martins Pereira) - Ilha de Xisto: Guia do Douro e do Vinho do Porto (Manuel Carvalho) - DOURO, Rio, Gente e Vinhp (António Barreto)
As port has a relatively short fermentation (usually 36 to 48 hours), winemakers find no real advantage in using dry selected yeasts, so yeast inoculation is not commonly employed in port winemaking. Port winemakers prefer to use the ambient 'indigenous' yeast in port fermentations, as they believe that these are better suited for achieving complexity in the wine. For dry Douro wines, where fermentations are much longer, yeast inoculation is commonly used (dry selected yeasts).
Standard (75cl) and larger bottle formats (Magnums: 1.5 litre) are better suited for Vintage Ports because they favour slower, more subtle wine ageing. Smaller bottles (such as halves of 37.5cl) normally speed up wine ageing, mainly because they have more oxygen per centilitre of wine than larger bottle formats. This means a higher proportion of the wine is in contact with oxygen (present in the space in a stoppered wine not occupied by the wine itself), which will accelerate the ageing process. Apart from this, as Vintage Port is an unfiltered bottle-matured wine, having a greater volume for the precipitation of sediments may provide additional benefits for the wine's development. This is one of the reasons why half bottles of Vintage Port aren't more widely available. Generally speaking, standard-sized and larger bottles are better for long-term bottle ageing. It is often the case that Magnums of Vintage Port reveal even greater complexity and finesse than a standard bottle from the same vintage year. But, as with any fine wine, this will also depend on how well the bottle has been stored.
Well, it's actually the exact opposite! Although bottle stabilisation may be beneficial for most mainstream wines (intended to be consumed quite young), some of the finest quality ports (as with virtually all fine wines) require long-term bottle-ageing to develop their full potential. These wines (principally Vintage Ports) are intentionally bottled unfiltered to retain all the phenolics, natural acids and flavour precursors, in short, many of the necessary ingredients required for prolonged bottle-ageing. With no contact with the oxygen, this ageing enhances the slow formation of aggregates which results in the settling of sediment in the bottle. Therefore, the wine will develop in contact with its own sediment through a process called reduction. Filtered ports, on the other hand, age through a slow micro oxidation process. This ageing takes place in wooden casks or vats prior to bottling — before which the wines are filtered and fined, rendering them ready to drink, but removing any particular benefit or potential for further ageing in the bottle.
Yes, although it depends on the type of Late Bottled Vintage (LBV). There are two types: - Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): the majority of LBVs available in the high street are wines that are aged solely in wood, primarily large oak vats, and bottled between their fourth and sixth year (hence the term 'late bottled', because declared Vintage Ports are bottled in their second year). These LBVs are filtered prior to bottling, which makes them very easy to serve as no decanting is necessary; this type of LBV is not intended for long-term ageing, once it's been bottled, it's ready to drink and shouldn't be kept for longer than five or six years. - Traditional LBV: Some producers still make traditional LBV, meaning wines that are bottled unfiltered, after four rather than five or six years. After bottling, these LBVs will age for at least a further four years (longer is usual) in bottle before being offered for sale. They will show on the label the term 'unfiltered' or 'bottle-matured' (or both). This type of LBV has the potential for a long bottle ageing, provided good conditions are assured (constant cool temperature, horizontal position, location away from sunlight). These LBVs can age up to 20 or more years.
First and foremost, port must be bottled at source in Portugal, so no other type of container — other than the original bottle and corresponding transport case — is allowed for port destined for export (and indeed, for domestic shipment in Portugal as well). All ports have to be previously certified by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (IVDP), which approves ports' quality, classifications, labels and other elements, and issues the guarantee seal for each individual bottle. During transport, freight companies must ensure stable temperatures during transportation and during temporary storage — before and after the transportation itself.