Most people won't be sorry to see the back-end of this winter (except for me, of course; this is my favorite time of year), but even though Spring is on its way, it is definitely still cold enough outside to stay at home and sip one of the most classic winter wines: Port.
All true Ports are produced in the Douro region of Portugal. Developed at a point in history where many wines were becoming spoiled over long sea or land journeys, Port wine is fortified with brandy as a preservative during mid-production. Because of this, the resulting wine is rich, sweet, higher in alcohol and longer-lived.
Ports are classified into two major types: Tawny and Ruby. Each classification has their own subcategories, but in general, Tawny Ports have barrel aging and tend toward nuttier flavors, while Ruby Ports are bottled without barrel aging and reflect more berry flavors.
The least expensive Tawnies have no age declaration and are simply labeled "Tawny Port." Aged Tawnies are labeled either 10, 20, 30 or 40 year, signifying the length of barrel aging. Ports labeled Colheita will have a vintage date, but are a Tawny style, aged in oak, and ready to drink upon release. The longer these wines have aged, the richer and smoother they will be.
Ruby style Ports also begin with the simple "Ruby Ports." The next level of quality can be labeled with a proprietary name (e.g. Warre's Warrior, Noval Black, Graham's Six Grapes), followed by the Late Bottle Vintage (LBV). These are deeper and more complex, but also ready to drink upon release. Vintage Port, however, is only made in the best years, and is recommended to be held for several years before drinking, though they are released upon bottling.
Generally, Ports are sipped on their own, after dinner or in the evening while you're sitting down and relaxing, but they will always pair perfectly with chocolate, fruit, nuts or full-flavored cheeses such as Stilton, Gorgonzola or Bleu.
Here are some of our favorites: