Port wine is a sweet, fortified wine, often thought of as a dessert wine. Port style wines are produced in several countries, but only wines from the Douro region of Portugal are labeled as “Porto;” the pretenders are often labeled as “Port” rather than “Porto.” Port wines are fortified with the addition of distilled spirits, often cognac, in order to boost their alcohol content. The higher alcohol content was originally needed to preserve the wine during sea voyages. The wine gets its name from the seaport city of Porto, the port from which much of it was originally exported. There are two primary categories of Port: vintage and nonvintage (or wood) Ports. Vintage Ports are wines which are kept in wood barrels only very briefly and are then aged in the bottle. Vintage Ports must be bottled two years after the harvest. The words “Vintage Porto” must appear together on the label, in large print and on the same line. This designation distinguishes a vintage Port from those nonvintage Ports which also show a vintage date on their label. Vintage Ports are medium-to full-bodied, with an elegance and richness not found in nonvintage Port. As a rule, vintage Ports need to be at least 10-15 years old before they are considered ready to drink. Most vintage Ports are blended. As with any blended wine, the goal of blending is to create a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. The character of Ports will vary from producer to producer; each Port house has a unique style that remains consistent throughout the entire range of product – from ruby through tawny to their vintage Port. Port houses only declare a vintage product in the best years. Only about 2 percent of Ports are vintage. Nonvintage Ports are those that do not meet the requirements of a vintage Port. They include wines such as ruby, tawny and white Ports. Ruby Ports are generally the youngest. The designation comes from the bright ruby/garnet color of these wines. Fruity with noticeable sweetness, these are sometimes served as an aperitif or with fruity-sweet desserts. Bottle aging does not improve ruby Ports and they are considered ready to drink once bottled. While not improving in the bottle, rubies will last reasonably well after opening. Tawny Ports are older, lighter in body and drier than rubies. Again, the designation comes from their amber color. Tawnies are usually produced by combining various older Port wines. There are two primary kinds of tawnies, those with no statement of age, and older ones with a specific statement of age. The only age statements legally permitted are: 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old Port. Older tawnies are drier, paler in color, and exhibit a more elegant bouquet and subtle flavor than their younger brethren. They are also more expensive. Tawny Ports, like rubies, do not improve in the bottle, but will last once open. Tawny Ports are typically served after dinner, either alone or with delicate, flavorful desserts. As you might expect, white ports are made from white rather than red-wine grapes. White ports come in two varieties, dry and sweet, and should be served cool or cold. They are not very popular in the U. S. and you may have trouble finding one at a restaurant. If you do find one, the odds are the bar tender won’t know to serve it to you chilled. As with other nonvintage Ports, white Ports don’t improve with age, but will last after opening. Cellar Notes I’m going to depart from the usual Cellar Notes format in that I’m not going to suggest a particular bottle of Port. Some people like Port, a lot of people don’t. Many, if not most people, have never tried it. If you’re going to try Port for the first time, you don’t want to base your opinion on something inexpensive (aka cheap). Good Ports, even nonvintage Ports, can be expensive and you don’t want to drop $150 for a bottle just to see if you’re going to like it. So, what to do? My suggestion is to experiment with Port by the glass at restaurants. Order a glass after a good meal. I would start with ruby Ports because they are a little sweeter. Even if you didn’t like the rubies, try the tawnies. Tawnies are different enough that you might like them. If you like the tawnies, then spring for a vintage Port. Don’t pick the cheapest Port on the list. If you’re going to give Port a try, try a good one. Remember, for rubies young is good, but for tawnies and vintage Ports, older is better. When you find one you like, be sure to ask to see the bottle. Personally I prefer tawnies, something at least 30 years old. You’re going to have to go to Spec’s or some other liquor store to find good Port. Some of the grocery stores in our area may carry one or two Ports, but they are not worth your trying. I suggest you make a pilgrimage to Spec’s on Smith downtown. They have a huge selection of Ports (and everything else). Local oenophile David Dickson has been enjoying, learning and teaching about wine for nearly 30 years. He welcomes questions, comments and suggestions for columns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit his Web site at www.lifeisacabernet.net.