I discovered port in earnest in Porto, Portugla.  Vinho do Porto, Porto, and often simply referred to as port)is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal.  It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, and comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.  It is a favorite of foxhunters to carry to fortify themselves from long days in the saddle.

The process for making is similar to brandy and the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River.  The Douro valley where port wine is produced was defined and established as an appellation in 1756, making it the oldest protected wine region in the world, followed by Chianti (1716) and Tokaj (1730) which were earlier to establish but later to regulate.

Over a hundred varieties of grapes are sanctioned for port wine designations,only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are commonly used with dense fruits suitable for long aging.  There are a few general types, as I discovered in Lisboa and Porto:

Ruby port or “rabelo” are the cheapest and most extensively produced type of port. After fermentation, it is stored in tanks made of concrete or stainless steel to prevent oxidative aging and preserve its rich claret color. The wine is usually blended to match the style of the brand to which it is to be sold. The wine is cold filtered before bottling and does not generally improve with age.

Tawny ports, made from red grapes, aged in wooden barrels, which are generally sweet or medium dry and typically consumed as a dessert wine.  Tawnies have spent at least two years in barrels. Above this two-year requirement, many are marketed as a blend of several vintages, with the nominal years “in wood” stated on the label, though some are separated by the year of casking.

White  can quickly be surmised as being from white grapes and not worthy of consideration, by this aficionado.  However, if you like sherry, maybe I have missed something here and you should seriously consider them.

Late bottled vintage (LBV) was worthy of a consideration for a particular vintage, but then due to lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned, some 4-6 years after vintage.  Port aficionados often view these as the undiscovered gems of their price and worthy of collecting. entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year and accounts for about two percent of overall port production. Not every year is declared a vintage in the Douro. The decision on whether to declare a vintage is made in the spring of the second year following the harvest. The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house, often referred to as a “shipper”.

Vintage port actually makes up only a small percentage of the production of most shippers and most will say that only three years of ten deserve setting aside. Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to forty years of aging in the bottle before being seriously considered.

I hate to confess it but I am a cheap port date.   I have tried everything from Vintage port to LBV to rubies and tawnies, and I like the rubies.  Six Grapes ruby port is inexpensive and one of my favorites for the foxhunting flask.  I have sampled 1967, 1969, and many other classics, only to discover that I prefer the young and cheap rubies, which is quite unlike my tastes in red wine.  Viola!