How to serve and store Port

Lovers of wine may be some distance along in their Port love affair, but for anyone with more than a passing interest in fortified wines you've probably come to realise that Port is quite unlike any wine out there on the market. Not only is Port different in flavour profile and production methods, it's also very different when it comes to service and storage and some of the wine accessories and wine coolers we sell are better suited to Port than some others. Let's start at the beginning;

What is Port?

Let’s start with the basics. Port is a Portuguese fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. Port is often a sweet red wine best served alongside a dessert. However, it is not uncommon to find port wines with dry or semi-dry profiles and occasionally in white wine forms.

Regarding the aging process, port wines undergo a complex chemical reaction and physicochemical matrix. This aging process alters these chemical reactions, which can result in an enhancement of flavor and complexity. The aging process's specifics depend on the port's style and its desired flavour and aroma. Port tends to kept inside thicker, stouter bottles and as such, any wine cooler chosen to house a majority Port collection should have shelving designed to support, in this case then, we would recommend the Swisscave range whose shelves support all wine formats.

Types of Port Wines

There are 4 different classifications of port wine, tawny, ruby, vintage, and white. Each of these types of ports goes through its aging process, which helps to create unique flavor profiles for them. So, what is the difference between these classifications?

Tawny Port: Named after its “tawny hue’ or the reddish-brown color it portrays, tawny ports are aged in wooden barrels, which help to define its pigment. A tawny port will be aged for a minimum of 6 years and can continue to age for up to 40 years!

The longer a tawny port has been in the again barrel, the more complex and compact you will notice the flavor is. Most wine aficionados would describe a tawny port as sweet and nutty, with silky smooth attributes and delicate notes of caramel, vanilla, plums, and dates.

Ruby Port: Ruby ports are aged for only 3-6 years and often in oak barrels or stainless-steel vats. With a ruby port, you shouldn’t expect to follow a decanting process as they are filtered before being bottled.

A ruby port follows a smooth, rich, sweet berry profile while caressing the nose with its fruity aromas. Many individuals will describe these ports as smelling like plums and illustrate delectable notes of chocolate, cinnamon, cherries, and blackberries.

Vintage Port: A vintage port's aging process is slightly different from a tawny or ruby port. Vintage ports are aged in oak barrels for the first two years and then transferred into bottles. The bottled port will often sit in a cool, dark cellar for up to 20 years before being opened. Due to their aging and bottling process, you must decant the sediment from a vintage port before drinking.

Vintage ports are best known for their ability to pack a punch with intense aromas and rich, fruity flavors. This “king of champagne” is full of depth, texture, and sweetness. You may even notice that many vintage ports encompass hints of vanilla and dried fruit flavors followed by a dash of spice.

White Port: White ports often have lower alcohol content due to their fermentation and again process. White ports are made of a blend of white grapes and are aged in stainless steel vats or wooden barrels. The aging process averages 1.5 to 2 years, although drier versions of this port can be left in a barrel to age for an entire decade!

White ports are balanced with a sweet, nutty flavor that exhibits caramel, honey, and hazelnut notes. If the white wine is aged longer and drier, its flavor profile will become less sweet than its younger white port counterpart.

Learn How to Serve Port Wine

Each category of ports has its own unique flavor profile, which also means they can pair with different foods! Learning how to serve port wine properly can help to bring out the best notes of each wine.

Tawny Ports: Tawny ports are best paired with a warm apple pie, along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or even a crème brulee. If you want to learn how to serve port with an entrée, tawny is a good choice. Tawny port can be paired with grilled lamb or a tender steak.

Ruby Ports: Ruby ports are best paired alongside a chocolatey dessert such as a chocolate mousse or pudding, chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate truffles. Additionally, you can pair ruby ports with cheese platters containing blue, brie, or goat cheese.

Vintage Port: As far as vintage port pairing goes, sometimes they are best to be enjoyed without the accompany of food. A cigar is an excellent addition to a well-aged vintage port. However, you can choose to pair them with chocolate-based desserts as well. 

White Ports: White ports can be deliciously paired with tarter desserts such as cherry pies and lemon bars. If you want to pair a white port with an appetizer, we recommend a charcuterie board containing a variety of swiss cheese, smoked salmon, and olives.

How to Store Port

How to store port and how to keep port fresh is critical knowledge for getting the most out of these wines! The proper technique for storing your port wine will be different if it is still sealed versus after you open it. For sealed port wine, you will want to keep it at a consistent temperature. If the temperature of your wine fluctuates too much, it can create undesirable flavors and ruin the quality of your wine. It is best to store unopened port wines in cool dark places such as basements/cellars. Your wine should stay between 50- and 65 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time it is stored. All of our wine coolers would keep unopened Port in top condition but  wine storage cabinet or freestanding wine fridge makes the most sense.

You may be wondering how to keep port fresh once it is opened. Well, if your port wine has been opened, proper storage is necessary to make its shelf-life last as long as possible. Your best bet for keeping your opened bottle of port fresh is sticking it in the fridge. A wine fridge is a practical way to store your open bottle of port. Nevertheless, the length of time it will remain fresh before the oxidation process takes over is up to the type of port.

Here is our guide for how long you can hold onto that refrigerated opened bottle of port wine:

Tawny Port: up to 3 weeks

Ruby Port: up to 2 weeks

Vintage Port: 24 hours to 1 week

White Port: up to 2 weeks

Top Two Ports to Try!

Now that you understand what a port wine is, how to serve port, and how to store port, it is time to move on to which ports you should try first.

#1 2016 Late Bottled Vintage Unfiltered Port, Quinta do Noval, Port, Portugal

Quinta do Noval is one of the finest port producers. Their 2016 Late Bottled Vintage Unfiltered Port is made from noble grape varieties from Quinta. A delicious, rich, and complex wine with notes of blackberry and blackcurrant fruits and hints of spice.

Critics note that Qunita do Noval’s 2016 LVB port is “A sumptuous nose of liquidized blackcurrants and ripe black cherries shows plenty of chocolaty depth, and high-quality spirit gives warmth without any alcoholic burn.”

#2 NV 40-Year-Old Tawny, Quinta do Noval, Port, Portugal

Another incredible port choice from Quinta do Noval is their NV 40-year-old tawny. Made with 100% estate grapes, it is evident that the aromatic spectrum of this port has developed enormously, and the wine is vibrant with freshness and tertiary characteristics.

Wine critics call this wine “remarkably smooth” and share that the flavor profile is “Lovely raisin and has a terrific tang. Silky. So zesty and fresh and full of life.”

The Bottom Line

Most wine coolers can accommodate opened and unopened bottles of Port, however, the shelving systems of some units are better adept at storing Port without significantly reducing the overall capacity of the wine fridge. Older ports can be quite fragile and if you plan to keep them over the longer term, it would make sense to choose a wine cabinet made for long term maturation that contains a carbon filter. 

Sarah newton

Author - Sarah Newton

Sarah Newton has worked in the wine industry for two decades holding senior positions at some of the UK wine industry's leading brands. The MD of Coolersomm, Sarah is WSET certified and our lead wine buyer too.