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Port wine is a classic dessert wine, created by necessity in the 17th century to enable the export of wine from Portugal to England without spoiling (by adding grape neutral spirits (i.e. brandy) to wine). The resulting product is the richly-flavored, intense, often sweet after-dinner drink that we've come to love over the years.
Almost all Port wines can be divided into one of two major categories: tawny or ruby. Tawny Ports are aged in barrels, permitting some oxidation, and tend to have a nutty flavor. These can range from basic Tawny, aged Tawny (designated by number of years in the barrel, not by vintage), or Colheita (vintage Tawny). Ruby Ports are aged in the bottle, with no oxidation, and have predominantly berry flavors. Ruby Ports include basic Ruby, Special Reserve Ports (often labeled with a proprietary name), Late-Bottled Vintage and Vintage Port.
Port wine ratings are a good way to determine a brand preference for basic (non-vintage) Tawnies and Rubies, because these wines are very consistent for every production batch a winery releases. Vintage, Colheitas and Late-Bottle Vintage Port wine can vary from year to year, but are generally exceptional and have the ability to age long-term.