How and Why White Port is a Good Choice for Cocktails

A lot of myths surround Port. It’s often thought too sweet, and red port iterations are seen as a post-dinner drink rather than the versatile cocktail ingredient that it can be. Many people don’t know much about the white port.

Stephanie Andrews, beverage director at Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that many people mistakenly think it’s a sweet wine or a cooking wine. Some white ports are complex, while others can provide the perfect acidity to complement in-season fruits.

Javelle Taft is the head bartender at Death & Co. NYC. “White port has a remarkable textural element which reminds me of spring fruits,” she says. The flavour and acidity are reminiscent of unripe peaches, green apples, and juicy stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, and unripe pears.

The white port can be used in many different ways. It can be sweetened, oxidative, or bone-dry. It also mixes well with various cocktails, including tropical-style and Port & Cocktails. It is lively, fresh, floral, and a great backbone for bright, summery cocktails.

“It’s versatile and not too obscure an ingredient for an average cocktails enthusiast,” Westin Galleymore is the director of bars at underbelly Hospitality in Houston. It can be used as a modifier, base, or split base.

What is White Port?

Fortified wine is made from white grapes grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley. It uses varieties such as malvasia fina and rabigato, moscatel. The grape brandy is added to the fermented wine juice. This stops the fermentation process and produces a wine with higher alcohol content (usually between 16% – 20%). It can also be sweetened in different ways depending on the time the grape brandy was added. There are many styles to choose from sweet (or lacrimal), doce (bone-dry), and extra Seco (bone dry).

Mark Phelan is the beverage director at 16 On Center collective, Chicago. He says the white port is typically younger, lighter and brighter than its red counterparts. Older versions, ranging from 10 to 40 years, will have deeper colours and more complex smells. He says that Phelan can marry either with quality tonic or seasonal garnishes. It is a more affordable and sessionable option than gin at 19.5% ABV, and it is usually less expensive than gin.

The Pros’ Favorite Brands and Styles

Taft likes Quinta do Infantado’s white port at Death & Co. “Drier-style port are great because you can add layers without it being sweetened or marzipan-like.” Andrews seconded the suggestion.

Justin Lavenue, co-owner of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, endorses Taylor Fladgate Chip dry and Fonseca Siroco. He says they are great for replacing dry sherry or vermouth in cocktails.

Galleymore sticks with Warre’s white port- “Coming from a classical big port house it hits just about all you need in cocktail approachable white ports,” he said. But for “drinking neat, really jazzing up things,” Kopke white Ports are in his glass.

How to use a white port in cocktails

What do you do once you’ve got a bottle?

Portugal’s clear answer, regardless of the hour, is a White Port & Tonin. It’s light-bodied, easy-going, low-effort and pleasantly bitter. Why mess with a classic recipe? Taft created a Port & Tonic riff to accompany his Death & Co NYC menu. He souped up the classic with Bonal, Chareau aloe liqueur and cucumber bitters. He says, “It’s tall, effervescent and bitter.”

Taft will also bench blanc vermouth to be used in cocktails. He says that white ports are slightly sweeter than vermouths, making them more attractive when used in Martini-style cocktails or two-part drinks. It is used in place of dry Vermouth in a twist to the Bamboo, which is joined by traditional sherry, apricot liquor and honey syrup.

Westin also advises that drinkers keep vermouth in the refrigerator after opening. I have found that non-vintage port is much younger than older white ports. The flavour will change if it is left at room temperature for a few days. Keep it in the refrigerator after opening.” He also recommends grabbing a chilled white port bottle and adding some cold tonic.

Lavenue uses the white port to replace other fortified and aromatized wines like sherry and vermouth, as well as Americano-style wines like Cocchi Americano and Lillet Blanc. He says white port can be used as a modifier in classic wine-based cocktails such as Chrysanthemum or Sherry Cobbler. In his twist on the latter, he adds a hefty pour of the white port to the classic white-vermouth-and-Benedictine combination.

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