Portugal’s fortified wines are often seen as a bit sloppy, given their association with post-dinner drinks that were so beloved by the English nobility. Many drinkers often dismiss Port as too sweet or strong. This is a shame because it has many applications besides digestifs and dessert pairings.
Sandy de Almeida is the bar manager at The Drake Hotel, Toronto. “Port is very misunderstood.” It’s often viewed as a dessert Wine. This is a huge misconception.
Port is a sleeper agent for a bottle. Unlike lower-proof fortified wine, an open bottle has a shelf life of several months and can be mixed into any number of cocktails. Port is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various cocktails. It can also be submerged into cold-weather cocktails. You can either sip it straight, mix it into a Tiki cocktail, or make a cobbler with a little port.
Danny Kuehner is the bar manager at Madison Park in San Diego. “I love to work with port because he can add body to a drink and flavour to it,” he said. This is repeated by Matt Young, general manager of Cure New Orleans. It’s rich and complex, yet it retains fresh acidity. It is low in alcohol and makes great, multi-faceted cocktails.
Beat the Bad Rap
Why is a port not the staple bar drink it deserves? Kuehner says the biggest misconception about the Port is that it is all sweet. “I feel that a lot people don’t grasp the depth and complexity of port.”
Anthony Caporale is the director of spirits education at the Institute of Culinary Education. “It seems that many Americans associate port wine with brandy,” he says. While both drinks are made from grapes, they are quite different.
De Almeida notes, too, that bartenders are often confused by technicalities. “Does it happen in hours? Days? Is it best to keep it in the refrigerator? What time do you serve it? These questions may seem daunting if you don’t know much about the Port. (The answers are: You can drink it with any food, refrigeration is not required, and you should finish an open bottle in a few months.
A Port Primer
Port is a fortified wine made in the Douro region, Portugal. Porto is the name of this port wine, located at the mouth of the Douro River. It was the centre of the port-wine trading since the late 1600s when it became increasingly popular in other countries.
Like other fortified wines, Port has a distilled spirit, in this case, aguardiente (a neutral grape spirit), added to increase its alcohol content and preserve it,” Caporale says. It is fortified in fermentation to stop the process. This preserves the wine’s sweetness and richness.
Many people lump all types of Port together. However, many red-port styles range from ruby and yellow to vintage, colheita and late-bottled vintage ports (LBV).
Ruby ports taste like a fruit-forward, full-bodied wine. “Think plums, cassis, berries,” says de Almeida. The most affordable ports are made from red wine aged in concrete or stainless steel vessels. This preserves the wine’s original colour and gives them its name.
Tawny Port is aged for a year in wood barrels. This allows the wine to contact air and oxidize, giving it deep golden colours and nuanced flavours. De Almeida says that this type of Port has a lighter flavour, is more balanced and has more nuttiness. You can think of hazelnuts and dried fruit, as well as butterscotch.
Like vintage wines, vintage ports are only made from grapes harvested in the vintage year. They spend the majority of their time in the bottles, Caporale says. LBV ports are made from vintage ports, but they spend more time in barrels before bottling. They are generally ready to drink immediately after ageing.