Winter Warmers: What is Port Wine?

As the weather cools down, and we prepare to welcome Winter for another year, our minds begin to wander thinking about what we're going to be drinking this season. 

With the temperature dropping below 20 degrees (yes, we know... typical Queenslanders) we can't help but reach for our winter comforts, cozy ugg boots, fluffy blankets, a good book and a roaring fire, but what wine pairs best to keep in with the cozy theme?

Well... nothing quite captures the essence of winter like a warm and smooth glass of tawny port. 

But what exactly is a port? Read on for the rundown… 

Port is a type of dessert wine produced in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. The term ‘port’ is protected under EU regulations. Much like sparkling wine isn’t considered ‘Champagne’ unless it’s made in the Champagne region, Port isn’t truly ‘Port’ unless it has been produced in the Douro Valley. Despite this, many people will use the term ‘port’ as a catch-all to refer to all port-style dessert wines, no matter where they are produced. Traditional styles use native Portuguese grapes such as Touriga, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Roriz—although many Australian “port-style” wines utilise grapes such as shiraz, grenache, or mataro. 

So, what does it taste like? As a result of fortification, port is typically quite sweet although some winemakers also make dry and semi-dry styles. Fortification refers to the process whereby grape brandy or another distilled spirit is added to a wine mid-ferment. The addition of alcohol stops the natural course of fermentation, preserving the wine and leaving behind higher levels of the grapes natural residual sugar. 

Ports can be further classified according to style. Ruby port is the most widely produced in Portugal, although Aussies tend to love a tawny port—a style characterised by scrumptious flavours of butterscotch, roasted nuts, candied orange, raisins, maple syrup, and mixed spices. Utterly indulgent, tawny ports pair wonderfully with cheese boards and charcuterie, especially blue cheese, as well as rich desserts—think sticky date pudding or crème brulée. On the other hand, many opt to savour a glass of port on its own in order to appreciate its rich depth of flavour. The overall tasting experience can be further heightened by atmospheric adornments— a wood fire, a good book, agreeable company…

Tempted? Another advantage of fortification is that it preserves wine. Port style wines tend not to spoil for a  month or so after a bottle is opened. To further decelerate the rate of oxidation and thus extend the shelf-life of an open bottle of port—simply pop it in the fridge. I bet the bottle will be empty long before Spring!

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