A Beginner’s Guide to Port Wine

Beginner's guide to port wine

If you are heading to Portugal you may be wondering what ports to try or buy. So we’ve written a beginner’s guide to port wine for the wine lover who wants to understand the different types of port wine that are available. Port only comes from Portugal and more specifically the Douro Valley, in northern Portugal.

Porto ToursThe Douro Valley one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful vineyard areas.

So what is Port Wine? Port is a fortified wine. These wines are made by adding spirit during the wine-making process to stop fermentation, leaving residual sweetness in the port and adding alcoholic strength. Port is a unique mix of climate, soil, grape variety and wine making expertise.

One of the fascinating aspects of Port is the variety of styles each with its own  characteristic flavours. There are several ways of classifying the different types of port, one being colour: Port is either white or red. Ports can be further divided into two groups undated Ports and dated Ports.

The majority of Port that is sold is made from red grapes.


Ruby port is an inexpensive port bottled with an average age of 3 years. It does not improve in the bottle and therefore should be drunk straightaway.


RELATED: Best Port Wine Cellar Tours 



Tawny port is aged for a notably long time in wood until it becomes amber-hued, smooth and nutty in flavour. Within the general group of tawnies there is the

  • Reserve Tawny Port, normally sold at 5-7 years of age.
  • Aged tawny comes in 10,20,30 and 40 year old styles.
  • Colheita or single harvest is a port from one year that has been aged as a tawny.

White and Rosé

White ports range from extra dry to sweet- also known as Lágrima. When you choose a white port  think of when and how you plan to serve it. In Portugal they enjoy white port as an apéritif  either chilled or neat or topped up with cold  tonic and a slice of lemon. It is usually served with slated roasted almonds.

Rosé port is a relatively new style of Port lighter in style and full of fruity flavours.


Late Bottled Vintage or LBV was created as an alternative to vintage port. Like vintage port,  LBV is the product of a single year. LBV is matured in wood for between 4-6 years; hence the term “Late Bottled”. Because of this long time in wood LBV is ready to drink when bottled and not intended to be laid down.


Vintage is the finest and rarest of all ports, the ultimate collector’s wine. A superior quality wine from a single harvest. On average a vintage is only declared three to four times a decade. The classic vintage will state the year on the label. To be classified as a vintage the wine must be bottled unfiltered between the 2nd and 3rd year after it is made. It then continues to age and mature for many years.

Vintage – Which should you buy?

When you buy a vintage you must first consider what you intend to do with it. Do you intend to keep it and lay it down in a wine cellar or are you going to drink it straightaway?  If you intend to lay it down then you should be looking for young Vintages when they are just offered to the market as they will be less expensive and easier to obtain.

To Decant or not to Decant

All wines can be served straight from the bottle or from a decanter. Most do not need to be decanted because they do not throw a deposit in the bottle. Vintage is the exception and needs to be handled with care. As the wine has not been filtered it throws a deposit as it ages and need to be decanted before serving.


Shopping in Porto

Official Port Wine Glass

To enhance your experience of drinking port this state of the art Port wine glass  designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, Portuguese architect from Porto, winner of the Pritzker prize (considered the noble prize of Architecture).  Available in the Vista Alegre shop in Porto, Rua Cândido dos Reis 6. If you’d like to take a set home they sell them boxed and if you don’t have room in your luggage for gifts buy them here on amazon.co.uk



RELATED: How to Plan your Visit to The Douro Valley


Do you have a favourite port? Let’s us know in the comments below we’d love to hear from you.

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