What Is Port Wine: A Layman’s Introduction

Hailing from Portugal, specifically the Douro Valley region, a port wine is a fortified red wine that is typically sweet, and traditionally reveled as a dessert drink. To understand this concept a bit more fully though, you’d also need to know what a fortified wine is.

What Is a Fortified Wine?

The first and in fact, an easy thing to remember about fortified wines is that they commonly boast a higher alcohol content than regular wines. For this reason, and if you’ve wondered, port wines can easily reach 19% ABV.

Switching gears to a high-level definition, it’s this: A fortified wine is a wine to which other distilled spirits are added (generally brandy). The reasons for this methodology are two:

  • To booze-up the alcohol content, and in the process, get one fine mixture/a.k.a a different kind of wine.
  • To increase shelf-life.

Both reasons end up working in favor of the consumers, so, in that sense, I say no harm done.

Now, at this junction, I’d reckon that if all you wanted was to get a basic understanding of port wines (in summary), then everything discussed thus far is essentially the gist of it. However, this post will discuss a few more exciting details, so feel free to stick around.

Two Main Recurrent Types/Categories of Port Wines

The world of port wines is vast with several classifications; howbeit, the two recurring ones you’d see in stores are likely going to Ruby Ports and Tawny Ports. Let’s dive slightly more into the two.

Ruby Port Wines

ruby port wine
An example of a Ruby Port wine. Photo Credit: Pixabay

According to Tastessence, Ruby ports are blends that have been aged between 3-5 years, customarily in neutral barrels or stainless steel vats. The keyword here is neutral  (for barrels) because it’s important to note that the aim is to prevent the barrels’ taste flavorings into the wines.

Speaking of flavors, Ruby ports tend to be fruitier than Tawny ports, as they’re known to retain the fruity profiles.

Tawny Port Wines

Unlike Ruby ports, Tawny port wines can be aged longer (minimum being 6-7 years). Also, these wines usually go through more oxidation — because of which, the “redness” of the wine pales when compared with a ruby port.

Further, its flavor is nuttier than being more fruity.

To easily digest the differences between the two, take a look at the table below:

Ruby Port Wines vs. Tawny Port Wines

FeatureRuby Port WinesTawny Port Wines
FlavorFruity (think plum, strawberries, etc.). Also, it can be more sweet than a Tawny.Nutty (think caramel, vanilla, etc.)
ColorThe “redness” can be seenThe “redness” pales in comparison
AgingHas a minimum of 3-5 years (may vary)In contrast, has a minimum of 6-7 years (may vary)
PriceGenerally speaking, can be less costly than a Tawny Port (all things considered)Can be pricier than Ruby ports
Primary differences between a ruby port and a tawny port.

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In Conclusion

Perhaps the best examples of fortified wines are port wines and sherry wines. In my experience, in movies and TV shows, I’ve rarely seen actors/actresses request a port wine. For some reason, “sherry” feels more sophisticated.

But know this: Port Wines are incredible, and don’t let the mainstream media dissuade you from trying them — or to make it a part of your everyday life. And as far as the geography goes, it comes from Portugal. That’s probably the easiest thing to remember about port wines.