Port wine is rich in flavor and history. It has been in the winemaking world for several years and it is one you should try if you hadn’t had it before.
You might have seen any of the many Winston Churchill biopics with sipping wine as he has become synonymous with the wine.
This guide is going to break down everything you need to know about port wines including a guide on how to make them.
What is Port Wine
Port wine is a fine fortified wine with its grape spirits added during the production process. It is made from grapes obtained from Portugal which gives it a distinct and unique feel to other wines. There are different styles of Port wine depending on how you age it, flavor profile, and unique characteristics. Port wines are obtained from blending wine with brandy. The blending makes the drink stronger and more shelf-stable.
Port wine is categorized in the same division as other strong wines like Marsala, Vermouth, Madeira, and Sherry. You can use it in many of the same ways you use the above-mentioned spirits: consumed as it is, mixed with punches or cocktails, and used as an ingredient for cooking when the recipe demands a lot of flavors and a bit of de-glazing.
You can trace this wine back to the 1600s when the French and English had falling outs. Then, it was restricted to import French wines into England but Portugal was still on good terms with England. The wine had been made for centuries in the Duoro Valley coastal city in Portugal. 17th-century ships of this time started carrying Flasks of Port to England since they were boycotting the major wine producer.
Getting wine into England in a form that was still drinkable became problematic. They solved this problem by adding a little brandy to the wines. The wines were usually shipped from the town Oporto (which sits at Duoro River’s mouth) and that is how the name Port wine was obtained.
Types of Port Wine
Port has been traditionally considered an after-dinner drink because of its sweet taste. Adding brandy to the wine increases the alcohol percent from an average of around 12 – 15% to levels as high as 20%.
These are the wines that you age in the barrels. These also have different styles as discussed below:
Red Port: These are the entry-level wines when compared to other ports. Red port wines include late-bottled vintage ports and ruby ports. It is sweet, uncomplicated, fruity in flavor, full-bodied, and priced reasonably. Some of these wines have distinct notes of blackberry or cherry. Red port wines don’t get much respect in the wine world and are typically on the lower tier categories of wines.
White Port: White port is a light wine typically used as an aperitif for meals. White port grapes are used to produce the wines and you will age for 2-3 years. You would typically serve white port wines when you want to give your guests a unique wine that is consumed in small quantities. White port wines are best served chilled with some approaches serving it over ice with tonic and mint.
Tawny Port: This is a blend of vintage wines that you age for a minimum of 10 years. It is not uncommon to find butterscotch, hazelnut, caramel, clove, and other sweet, rich, or nutty notes in the wine. This Is the style of wine that gets the most attention because of the bursting flavor. You don’t need to decant this style of wine and it is usually served chilled. It is increasingly drunk as a cocktail rather than an after-dinner drink.
These wines are poured into their bottles and left to age. The main style of this wine is:
Vintage Port: You will typically find some of the highest quality wines in this category. These wines if left unopened could last for a very long time, some even say forever. Its bottles are also very strong as it is rumored that the only way to break one is by hitting it on the side of a ship. It is gotten from one specific vintage and since not all years are vintage, it isn’t produced annually.
They typically reserve the best grapes from the best production years for vintage port wines. Of all the wines on this page, they are usually the most expensive and need around 5-10 years of aging after bottling it young. In some bottles, you’ll see sediments at the bottom which means you need to decant them.
Other wine types that are variations of the ones above include:
Colheita: This is another wine category that is gaining a lot of popularity in the wine industry. It is a variation of the Tawny port wine and is usually aged in small wooden casks. Many of them carry vintage dates and you might find out some were aged 8 years while some others could be as long as 40 years. The longer the aging period, the more expensive the bottle.
Late bottled vintage port (LBV): This type of wine sits somewhere between the Tawny and Vintage wines. These categories of wine come from only one year, but not the best years. LBV wines are generally cheaper than vintage port wines and also delivers a punch.
How to Make Port Wines
Many types of port are made from red grapes but white grapes are also an option that can produce some great results. The amount of sugar is largely dependent on the initial sugar content of the grapes and you should typically go for the ones with higher levels of sweetness. If the grape juice you produce is too sour, dilute it with water to balance it out.
You should also know that alcohol and sugar lower the acidity of wines and so too much water can noticeably reduce the drink’s quality.
Check below for the materials needed for making port wines and a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.
Materials/Ingredients Needed For Making Port Wine
- Brandy or Grape alcohol
- Wine yeast
Step by Step Guide to Making Port Wine
- Step 1: Pick out the grapes you intend to use in making the wine. The harvest period for port wine grapes is around mid-September.
- Step 2: Destem the grapes and remove any spoilt or moldy grapes from the bunch. Picking the unwashed grapes in dry weather preserves the wild yeast on the surface to kickstart fermentation.
- Step 3: Use boiling water to sterilize all the containers you plan to use and wipe them down with clean clothes to avoid contamination from molds and other pathogens.
- Step 4: Crush the grapes together carefully without damaging the seeds. If you crush the seeds while squeezing the grapes, the wines will come out bitter.
- Step 5: Put the crushed grape mash in a plastic container or an enamel with a wide neck. If you don’t have that, a bucket or cooking pot can be a makeshift alternative.
- Step 6: Divide the mash into quarters and leave one-quarter of the volume free for foam. After this, you can add wine yeast (optional).
- Step 7: Taste the grapes and if they’re very sour, add about 100 grams of sugar and 30-50 ml of water for each kilo of grapes. Keep stirring while you do this.
- Step 8: Use cheesecloth to cover up the container and leave it in a dark place with a temperature of 18 – 27o
- Step 9: Keep checking the mixture and remember to stir every 8 – 12 hours so it doesn’t go sour. Observe the surface as it should start foaming and bubbling after 12 -24 hours which shows the start of fermentation.
- Strain the juice through layers of cheesecloth and squeeze out the pulp after three days.
- Check the sugar value for an expected amount of around 18-19%. You can add beet sugar to reach the required sugar level but do not add too much as it could stop the fermentation process.
- Decant the obtained juice into a fermenter and fill it up to 75% of its volume. Seal with an airlock item like a medical glove with a hole in one of its fingers. Leave the fermenter in a dark place and cover it with a thick fabric at a temperature of 20 – 27o
- Fermentation will usually stop after about 12-15 days when the sugar content is about 8 – 10%.
- Add sugar to your wine for taste and stir your wine. Pour into oak cash and keep in a cellar for at least 6 months. If you’ve used brandy to fortify your port, you can skip the aging process and bottle the drink to start wine aging.
Check this video to learn how to make port wine with grape juice:
Port Wine FAQs
How Do I Store Port Wine?
Many ports that you’ll purchase were made with the intention of you drinking them right away. Of course, the main exception is vintage ports that improve with aging. If you see unfiltered written on the bottle or if it has a cork, chances are it is a Port wine that will mature in the bottle.
You can store port wines in a cool and dark environment, always on the side of the bottle. A cellar is an ideal place but anywhere that does not get hot or have fluctuations in temperature will do just fine.
How Do I Serve Port Wine?
You would typically serve port wines in servings of approximately 85 ml which is just enough for the narrow port wine glasses. You can use it to make cocktails, drink with your cigars, or even dessert.
There you have it! The next time you’re craving a drink of port wine, don’t hesitate to get all the materials listed above and make some for yourself.