Taylor’s is often referred to as the “Latour” of vintage ports, given its typically backward yet impressive inner strength that guarantees its longevity. Made solely in exceptional and declared years, vintage port is actually produced only about three times in a decade and accounts for only about 1% of output from the Douro region, famous as one of the very few wine regions where foot treading is still practiced, though machinery is the norm! 1994 was one of the finest vintages of the last century, with low yields and a perfect summer growing season. Packed with damsons, cherries, blueberry and cassis fruit, with huge body and exceptional length, elegance and complexity, this classically made opaque port is drinking well now but will continue to mature over the next three decades. A powerful and sensational wine. Robert Parker 97/100
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Port also known as Port wine, Vinho do Porto, Porto, or Porto wine is a sweet, fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern part of Portugal; it takes its name from the city of Oporto, the centre of port export and trading. Port has been produced in Portugal since the mid 15th Century. Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.
The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many port shippers: Croft, Taylor, Dow, Graham, Symington. Similar wines, often also called “”Port””, are produced in several other countries, notably Australia, South Africa, India and the United States. It has been produced in and around St. Augustine, Florida since the mid 16th Century. In some nations, including Canada, after a phase-in period, and the countries of the European Union, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as “”port.”” In the United States, the Portuguese product, by Federal law pursuant to a treaty with Portugal, must be labelled “”Porto”” or “”Vinho do Porto”” for differentiation. The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP or Port and Douro Wine Institute) regulates the Port industry in Portugal.
Port wine is typically richer, sweeter, heavier, and possesses a higher alcohol content than most other wines. This is caused by the addition of distilled grape spirits (such as brandy) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. It is commonly served after meals as a dessert wine, or with cheese. In France, white port is served as an apéritif. It has an alcohol by volume content of roughly 18% to 20%.Wine with less than 16% ethanol cannot protect itself against spoilage if exposed to air; with an alcohol content of 18% or higher, port wine can safely be stored in wooden casks that ‘breathe’, thereby permitting the fine aging of port wine.
Port from Portugal comes in several varieties.
Though it accounts for around one percent of production, vintage port is the flagship wine of all Portugal. It is made entirely from grapes of a declared vintage year. Not every year is declared a vintage in the Douro, only those when conditions are favourable to particularly flavourful crops of grapes. The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house, and is based on several factors, most notably the weather and the ability of the marketplace to absorb a new vintage. While it is by far the most renowned type of port, from a volume and revenue standpoint vintage port actually makes up a small percentage of the production of a typical port house. Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of 2 years before bottling, and often require another 5 to 15 years of aging in the bottle before reaching what is considered proper drinking age. Since they are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby colour and fresh fruit flavours. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to gain complexity and drink wonderfully for decades after they were bottled, and therefore can be particularly sought after and expensive wines.
Although it bears the word “”vintage”” in its name, single-Quinta Vintage Port is produced from a particular vineyard and usually from a lesser “”undeclared”” year. Neither it nor the so-called “”late bottled vintage”” wines are true vintage port.
“”Port”” wines produced outside of Portugal may be labelled with a vintage date, but rarely possess the quality and proven age-ability of true vintage port. They are vintage in the sense that they come from the produce of a specific year, but in most other respects are the opposite. They typically are meant for immediate consumption, produced nearly every year regardless of vintage conditions and are made from grapes of no particular distinction. Prices for “”port”” are similarly lower compared with genuine port. Nonetheless, some such “”ports”” or port-style wines improve with age. There is rarely universal agreement on the quality of the wine produced from a given year, and in some years a single producer may be alone in declaring a vintage. However, occasionally the harvest of a year is so good that all the major producers declare a vintage, and it is in these years that the port that is produced can last for over forty years, commanding high prices at auction.
Tawny port is aged in wooden barrels, exposing it to gradual oxidation and evaporation, causing its colour to mellow to a golden-brown after roughly ten years “”in wood.”” Often they have pronounced “”nutty”” flavours. Tawny port without an indication of age is a basic blend of wood aged port. Aged tawny port is a blend of several vintages, with the average years “”in wood”” stated on the label: 10, 15, 20, and 30 years are common. Tawny ports from a single vintage are called Colheitas (pronounced col-YATE-ah, meaning harvest or vintage). Tawny and Colheita ports are always ready to drink when released and do not typically benefit from aging in bottle, although they will not degrade either. Because it has already been exposed to oxygen, an open bottle of tawny resists oxidation the longest of all ports. “”Tawny”” port produced outside Portugal is rarely aged long enough to develop a natural tawny colour. Instead, it is the result of blending “”ruby”” and “”white”” ports, or possibly the addition of caramel colouring. This is increasingly no longer true as Australia produces some excellent aged Tawnies. Yalumba has released a 50 year old tawny and Hardy’s Whiskers Blake, Rosemount’s Old Benson and Galway Pipe are also made in the traditional manner. South Africa’s largest wine producer KWV also makes tawny port in the traditional manner.
Garrafeira port is similar to Colheita. It is made from grapes of a single vintage, aged in wood between three and six years and then aged in large approximately 10L glass demijohns for an extended time.
Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV)
LBV (Late-Bottled Vintage) port is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a vintage port but without the decade-long wait of bottle aging. In contrast to vintage port’s short time in barrel, LBV port is aged between four to six years in barrel, to mature it more quickly. Typically ready to drink when released, LBV ports are the product of a single year’s harvest and tend to be smoother and lighter-bodied than a vintage port. LBV ports that are filtered do not require decanting and are ready to drink at bottling. Unfiltered or “”Traditional”” LBV ports require decanting like vintage ports do, and may improve in the bottle.
Reserve or Vintage Character
The confusingly named Vintage Character or Reserve port is essentially a premium Ruby port. In 2005, the IVDP prohibited the use of the term “”Vintage Character”” replacing it with the term “”Reserve.””
Crusted port is a blend of port wine from several years, but retains the crust otherwise restricted to vintage ports.
Ruby port may contain wine from several vintages. Ruby ports are fermented in wood and aged in glass, which preserves the wine’s red colour. It is considerably cheaper than vintage port, and can be used in cooking or to make cocktails.
White port is made from white grapes, and generally served as a chilled apéritif. It is the only one which is optionally available dry as well.
Grapes and the “”Port”” Appellation
Red port can be made from many types of grapes (castas), but the main ones are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. White ports are produced the same way as red ports, except that they use white grapes-Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho, and Viosinho. While Porto produced in Portugal is strictly regulated by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, many wines in the U.S. use the above names but do not conform to the same standards. Thus each genuine port style has a corresponding, often very different, style that can be found in wines made outside Portugal.
There is a unique body of English ritual and etiquette surrounding the consumption of port, stemming from British naval custom.Traditionally, the wine is passed “”port to port”” — the host will pour a glass for the person seated at their right, and then pass the bottle or decanter to the left (to port); this practice is repeated around the circle. If the port becomes forestalled at some point, it is considered poor form to ask for the decanter directly. Instead, the person seeking a refill would ask of the person who has the bottle: “”do you know the bishop of Gloucester?”” (or some other English town). If the person being thus queried does not know the ritual (and so replies in the negative), the querent will remark “”He’s an awfully nice fellow, but he never remembers to pass the port””.In other old English traditions when port is decantered, commonly at the dining table, the whole bottle should be finished in one sitting by the diners, and the table should not be vacated until this is done.”