Vintage Port

Vintage port is a venerable drink that can vary significantly by maker, vintage and length of aging.

Younger (less than 10yr) ports are a vibrant ruby-red colour. Mature ports, 10-30yr ports, are more garnet or brick-red hue. Very old Vintage Ports can pick up a tawny or amber tint, and may have a lighter, translucent appearance with hints of brown or orange.

Smelling a vintage port can be like stepping into a museum of fruit, all surrounding, intense and wrapped in fruity flavours.

Tasting notes:

BodyFull-bodied. Thick and velvety, dominated by sweetness, but slightly astringent tannins and 20% to 22% alcohol though well-integrated and not dominant.
Grape flavoursdark fruit flavours, blackberry, black cherry, and plum prominent
Aging flavoursDried Fruits: raisins, dates, and figs
Spice: such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves
Nuts and Caramel:
Earthy, tobacco, and leathery notes

The weight and intensity of the wine is key to its positive impact and character.


Port dates to the late 17th century in the Douro Valley, northern Portugal. The Douro Valley’s diverse terroir and a rich variety of grape types, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz, provided the raw materials for the creation of exceptional wines. Adding brandy before fermenatation has consumed all the brings the characteristic sweetness of Port wine.

The wine first captured the attention of British wine enthusiasts in the late 1600s and they embraced it. In 1703, the Treaty of Methuen, also known as the Port Wine Treaty, was signed between Portugal and England. This treaty significantly reduced the tariffs on Portuguese wines entering England, leading to a boom in Portuguese wine. This was exacerbated due to the periodic conflicts between England and France, including the Napoleonic Wars. During these conflicts, trade with France was disrupted, leading to an increased demand for Portuguese wines, particularly Port.

To meet this trade British wine merchants, such as John Croft and John Graham, established themselves in the Douro Valley, contributing to the production and exportation of Port wine.

In 1756, after the Marquis of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo issued a royal charter known as the “Alvará de 10 de setembro,” which established the Douro Valley as the world’s first officially demarcated and regulated wine region.

British merchants introduced innovations, including the classification of Port wines, into the production process. In the 20th Century the categorization of Vintage, LBV (Late Bottled Vintage), and Tawny Ports emerged. Winemakers began experimenting with different styles of Port, including White Port and Rosé Port, to cater to evolving tastes. Port wine also saw the emergence of Single Quinta [Vineyard] Vintage Ports.

The USA: An Emerging Market for Port Wine

Early American colonists had a taste for fortified wines, including Port, Madeira, and Sherry. In recent decades, the United States has witnessed a resurgence of interest in Port wine. It has become a favoured after-dinner drink, appreciated for its rich, sweet, and complex flavours. Mixologists have also embraced Port wine as an ingredient in cocktails, given its moderate alcohol, strong fruit flavours, viscosity and most importantly its natural sweetness.

How its made:

The key to port is to add brandy (grape spirits) during fermentation. The alcohol kills eth yeast, stopping further fermentation. This increases the alcohol content, while retaining a lot of the fruit sugars making for a sweeter drink.

Different types of Port
Ruby Port: Vibrancy and Youthfulness

Ruby Port, often described as the “youngest” Port, is a vibrant red colour with fruit-forward flavours. After fortification, Ruby Ports are aged in large oak vats for a short period, usually around two to three years. This limited aging preserves the wine’s bright fruit flavours and deep red colour.

Tawny Port: Nutty Complexity and Elegance

Tawny Port is elegant, complex, with intriguing nutty notes. They are aged in smaller oak barrels or casks, exposing the wine to oxygen over an extended period. This oxidative aging changes the colour of the wine to tawny or amber, become smoother and brings notes of nuts, dried fruits, toffee and caramel.

Tawny Ports are often blended from different vintages and casks, creating a consistent house style. The age designation on the bottle (e.g., 10-year, 20-year, or 40-year) indicates the average age of the blended wines.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port: The Best of Both Worlds

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port offers a compromise between the vibrant fruitiness of a Ruby Port and the complexity of a Vintage Port. LBV Ports are aged longer in wood barrels, typically four to six years, before bottling. This extended aging allows them to develop more complexity and character compared to Ruby Ports.

LBV Ports are characterized by their rich, fruity flavours, often with notes of dark berries, plums, and a touch of spice. They are approachable, well-structured, and a great choice for both immediate consumption and cellaring.

Vintage Port: The Epitome of Aging Potential

Vintage Port is often considered the crown jewel of the Port world, representing the pinnacle of quality and aging potential. Crafting a Vintage Port involves meticulous attention throughout the make process.

  • Careful harvesting and grape selection
  • Foot rather than mechanical pressing
  • Short barrel aging to keep the fruit flavours
  • Bottling young (within 2 years)
  • Aging in bottle, sometimes for decades. This can lead to gentle tannins, intense fruit, floral, and spice notes

Vintage ports generally require decanting to remove the sediment before drinking.

Tasting Notes for Vintage Port Wine:

  1. Body: Vintage Port is full-bodied with a robust structure. Thick and velvety, the wine’s weight on the palate is substantial, offering a rich and luxurious mouthfeel. Its acidity is dominated by sweetness, but firm and grippy and slightly astringent tannins also play a significant role in Vintage Port, contributing to its structure and aging potential. The tannins mellow with age. Vintage Port has a high Alcohol content typically ranges from 20% to 22% alcohol by volume. Despite the high alcohol content, it is well-integrated and not overly dominant.
  2. Grape Flavours: dark fruit flavours, blackberry, black cherry, and plum prominent. Intense and concentrated, these flavours show the ripeness of grapes used in production.
  3. Aging: It is in the aging that the full complexity of Vintage Port unfolds:
    • Dried Fruits: raisins, dates, and figs
    • Spices: spice such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
    • Nuts and Caramel: As the wine oxidizes gently, nutty and caramelized nuances may appear, contributing to its overall richness and depth.
    • Tobacco and Leather: earthy, tobacco, and leathery notes

In conclusion, Vintage Port is a sumptuous and powerful wine with a rich array of flavours and a well-balanced profile. While it is not subjected to modern flavouring techniques, its extended bottle aging leads to a fascinating evolution of flavours that make it a true treasure for wine enthusiasts.

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