A guide to Christmas port

A guide to Christmas port

1.  What is port wine?

Port is a sweet, fortified wine from the Douro region of Portugal. It begins its life much in the same way as other wines do, with the crushing of grapes. However it's distinctive, sweet and fruit-filled taste comes from grape spirit which when added during fermentation process, stops the yeast from turning the natural sugars present in the grapes into alcohol and at the same time, increases the alcohol content of the wine to around 20%.

2 . Are there different types of port?

Yes, Port comes in 4 main styles, which suit a wide variety of foods you will find on your Christmas table:

  • Ruby Port - These full bodied and fruit-laden ports age for a relatively short time, between 2-6 years, in large wooden vats to maintain their deep red colour and intense flavors, which are reminiscent of black fruits and cherry.
  •  Ruby Ports - which include Reserve ports and Late Bottled Vintages, make an ideal partner for the soft cheeses such as Pont L'Evêque, a creamy and full bodied Brie de Meaux, chocolate dessert and can be used to make a delicious port wine sauce.
  •  Tawny Port - Aged in wooden barrels, sometimes for decades, rich and mellow Tawny Port is lighter in colour and has a delicious nuttiness with aromas of spice and butterscotch; characteristics which intensify with age. A glass of chilled 10-Year-Old makes a delicious aperitif, but is equally good matched to a hard, nutty cheese or a pudding such as tarte tatin, baked figs or cooked strawberries with pepper.
  • White Port - A crisp, fresh port made from white grapes. Best served chilled or mixed with tonic water. Works well as an aperitif or instead of a glass of Sauternes with Foie Gras or Paté. The hints of honey and good balanced acidity in the wine complement the rich paté beautifully. White Ports are also rather excellent when drizzled into a warm soup, adding some wonderful depth to the soup on a cold winter's day.
  • Vintage Port - The very best port wine from a single year and only produced in years when the wine is deemed to be of excellent quality, hence making a great gift for the wine lovers in the family. It's kept in barrels for only 2 years and then bottled, unfiltered, where it continues to age and mature over time. The most long-lasting of port, Vintage can be enjoyed when young and full of red fruits and tannins, or allowed to mellow to a subtler, more elegant finish. Pairs superbly with Stilton and other blue cheeses. 

3. What temperature should I serve Port?

White Port should be served chilled (6-7°C). Tawny slightly chilled (12-16°C), whilst Ruby should be served at cellar temperature, or 16-18°C). At temperatures higher than this, you will start to lose the elegance of the wine and the alcohol will become more noticeable.

4. How long can I keep an opened bottle?

With the exception of Vintage Port, once opened port can be kept for between 2-6 weeks, that is if you are able to resist it for that long! Keep in a cool place out of direct sunlight. A young Vintage Port should be drunk within 2 days to enjoy it at its best and an older vintage on the same evening.

5. Passing the Decanter

Over the centuries several customs and rituals have developed around the serving and enjoyment of port. They don't necessarily improve the flavour of port, but they are fun and do add to the sense of occasion. One of these traditions dictates that the decanter should be placed on the table to the right of the host or hostess.  It should then be passed to the left, travelling round the table from guest to guest in a clockwise direction until it comes back to its starting point. There are many colourful explanations for the custom of passing the Port to the left.  One theory is it arose from the need to keep one's sword arm free in case of trouble. It is sometimes said to have originated in the Royal Navy where the rule was 'port to port', meaning that the decanter (most likely a ship's decanter) should be passed to the left.

Top bottles of port to try this Christmas:

  • Churchill's 10 Year Old Dry White Port
  • Croft Pink Port NV
  • Dow's Quinta Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port 2004
  • Fonseca Vintage Port 1970
  • Graham's Colheita Tawny Port 1982
  • Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage 2008
  • Noval 40 Year Old Tawny Port
  • Ramos Pinto Quinta do Bom Retiro 20 Year Old Tawny Port
  • Taylor's 30 Year Old Tawny Port
  • Wiese & Krohn White Port 1964

Tips from Beatriz Machado, Wine Director of The Yeatman.

There's more great advice  in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.