Learn About Wine

What is Port Wine?

Port is a sweet, red, fortified wine from Portugal. Port is most commonly enjoyed as a dessert wine because it is rich and sweet. There are several styles of Port, including red, white, rosé and an aged style called Tawny Port. While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are fine Ports that are highly treasured for sipping and can cost several hundred dollars. Let’s get up to speed on this fascinating and historic sweet wine.

Real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal.

What does Port Taste Like?

Port is a sweet wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate sauce.

There are several different kinds of port, but the 2 primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness).

Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.

Serving: Port should be served just below room temperature, around 60 °F (16 °C). A popular way to serve Ruby Port in the summer (with a meal) is on the rocks with a peel of lime!

Pairing: Port wine pairs wonderfully with richly flavored cheeses (including blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses), chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and even sweet-smoky meats (barbecue anyone?).

The Common Styles of Port Wine

There are many different official categories of Port, but most will fall under 4 main styles:

  • Ruby (Red) Port: a deeply-colored red Port which includes Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port
  • Tawny Port: a very sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavors
  • White Port: made with indigenous white grapes including Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia
  • Rosé Port: This is a new style of Port wine made like rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, violets and caramel

What Makes Port Unique?

One of the most important qualities of true Port is the unique blend of Portuguese indigenous grapes. Port grapes include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties! Each grape adds a unique flavor to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes.

Grape stomping

Port is traditionally fermented in lagars where people stomp grapes with their feet while the wine ferments. Today, most Port wineries use automatic lagars with mechanical “feet” in place of manual labor.

Special wine glass

A Port wine glass is smaller than a regular wine glass and the serving size is approximately 3 oz.

Port Wine and Cooking

Port is a popular addition to chocolate cakes, sweet gooey chocolate sauces and even used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak (especially a blue cheese topped steak). Chefs simmer Port wine and reduce it to a thick sauce. Then, you can add the port syrup to recipes or just drizzle it over the top of a dish, much like one might use balsamic glaze. Port is a great flavorful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.

Which Port to Use in Cooking?

Most recipes call for the affordable Ruby Port. This style is red and will impart red berry and cinnamon-like flavors into your sauce. Remember, a true Portuguese Ruby Port may cost $6–10 a bottle, but will last a long time.

Port Wine Substitute

In a pinch, you can use 2 parts dry bold red wine, 1 part alcohol (brandy or vodka) and about 1/4 part sugar. It won’t be ideal, but better than just using red wine!

How long does Port last open?

A Ruby-style Port will stay fresh for about 2 weeks (a month if preserved properly in your fridge) and a Tawny Port will stay fresh for about a month. Keep wines longer by storing your wine in a cool dark place and using a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen.

How long will Port Cellar?

Vintage Port is designed to age a long, long time. There are highly-prized Vintage Ports over 100 years old! However, most Port we see in the supermarket is bottled in a way that should be drunk upon purchase. You can tell which is which by looking at the cork. A Vintage Port has a regular long cork, and the “drink now” style of Port has a plastic-topped cork cap.

Explore More Dessert Wines

Port is a dessert wine similar to Marsala and Madeira. Find out more about the different types of dessert wine.

Read More

About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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