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How long can you keep a bottle of Crusted port?

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).

Does it matter what shape decanter you have?

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.

How should Vintage Port be stored?

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.

Does Coravin work for older Vintage Ports (since they have a lot of sediment)?

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!

Why do some Vintage Ports change colours faster than others?

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.

What is the best temperature to store port?

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.

A 20 YO tawny is stored for 20 years. Is it still a 20 YO?

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.

How long should a bottle of Vintage port be decanted before drinking?

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.

Taylor's 1985: drink it or keep it?

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.

Why do some Vintage ports become volatile in the bottle?

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.

My cellar is at stable 19ºC during summer. Is it still ok for my Vintage ports?

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.

How old should a bottle of port be to use port tongs to open it?

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!

What does it mean when the seal gets brown and crusty on an old port?

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).

What is the best glass to drink port?

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.

A good Vintage year that is now at its best...?

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.

I have a few bottles of Quinta do Vesuvio 2000. It felt off. Aren't Vintages meant to last?

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?

How long can you really leave different ports open and still nice to drink?

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. 

How to get a vintage port to the ideal serving temperature after it's been decanted?

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.

Which is the best port wine for this new year?

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!

Does refrigeration temporarily slow down oxidation once the wine is opened?

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!

What is the best type of decanter for port or doesn't it matter?

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.

Can port also be available in can?

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).

Is cheese a good pair with port wine, specially blue cheese?

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).

When is the right opportunity to open a bottle of 1970 vintage port?

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?!

What is the biggest challenge in the industry at the moment?

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.

Do certain grapes increase a port's ability to go through a 'dumb' phase?

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).

Does a young Vintage benefit from opening a few hours before?

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. 

How long can a bottle of LBV stay open?

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.

What is the effect of house temperatures (+/- 27ºC) on wines designed to age in the bottle?

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.

What is the impact of bottle size for ageing Vintage?

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.

Can LBVs age?

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.

Any specific conditions under which port must be during exportation?

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.

School of Port is an educational initiative from Symington Family Estates, premium port producers in the Douro for five generations since 1882.

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