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Jul 2, 2007 10:23 PM

Port, any recommendations? [Moved from Manhattan Board]

I'm not much of a wine drinker, but I do like port. Can anyone recommend a decent brand? I recently acquired a decent bottle of Ramos Pinto Tawny Port from Portugal, but I am by no means an expert.

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  1. Try the Fonseca house. 1994 was one of the best years for them, but 1977, 1975 are also very good and much more affordable.

    1. First and foremost: how much do you want to spend?

      There are three main categories of Porto: White, Ruby, and Tawny. From there, a myriad of sub-categories exist.

      Simply put, Tawny Porto is any wine that spends seven years or more aging in wood prior to bottling. If it spends less than that, it's a Ruby Port -- unless it's White.

      There are three types of non-vintage Ruby Porto blends. First is a "simple" non-vintage blend ("simple" Rubies and Tawnies are the least expensive Ports made). Then there is a non-vintage Porto produced in the style of a Vintage Porto -- these are called Vintage Character Porto, as typified by Noval LB or Fonseca's Bin 27. Finally, there is a rather rare, third category of non-vintage Ruby called Crusted Porto.

      There are also two types of Ruby Port WITH vintage dates: Vintage Porto (which must be bottled after roughly two years aging in wood), and Late Bottled Vintage Porto (bottled after 4-6 years in wood).

      Tawny Porto can be "simple" (see above), or can have an approximate designation of age: 10-Year Tawny, 20-Year Tawny, 30-Year Tawny, and 40-Year Tawny Ports are the only age designations permitted under Portuguese law. Finally, there are Tawny Ports that are produced from a single year's harvest and age for a very long time in wood prior to bottling. This category of Porto is called Colheita.

      White Ports can be old or young, dry or sweet.

      So, how much do you want to spend, and what style are you looking for? Prices, depending upon the category and the age of the Porto, can range from $10 to $10,000!


      1. The major houses all produce excellents Ports - See Zin1953's rundown on types. Each house's "take" on Port will be different for each wine in their lineup. Sometimes quite subtle, but often striking. The higher-end houses: Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman and Fonseca (part of the same corporate structure, but still very separate) are at the top. Others, Dow, Crofts, Graham's, Quinta de Noval, Sandeman's are all very close behind. Adriano Ramos Pinto is either at the bottom of that tier, or at the head of the one just below. These rankings will vary, depending on the source of your info. There are another two-dozen houses, that rise and fall slightly in rankings (again, depends on your source, for those "rankings"), and all produce great Port.

        Now, since you express a positive experience with a Tawny (Tawny can be a tad confusing, as some houses [lower down the tiers] produce a "Tawny-style" Port that is often a blend of true Tawny + White Port, but I'm talking about REAL Tawnies), you might want to do a taste-test. I'd suggest gathering up several producer's 20 Year Tawnies and share them with friends. The opened, but stoppered (nearly all Tawnies use T-corks) will keep, once opened, for some time, especially if you store them in the 'fridge. I'd recommend Taylor 20, Fonseca 20, Cockburn's 20 and Porto Barros 20. The reason that I suggest 20s is that these houses all do great ones (Taylor's 20 is my favorite of their Tawny lineup, even though I usually have a few 30 & 40s handy, and they cost so much more). Each will be different. Contrast the Cockburn's 20 vs the Porto Barros, then the PB against the Taylor and the Fonseca, as their properties are just across the river from each other. Again, all different, and all great. You will be surprised.

        Then, I'd look to the Rubies and sample, say the Graham's Six Grape, the Sandeman's Founder's Reserve (supposedly the highest selling Port in the world), and a few others at about the same price point. With these Rubies, you'll experience what the trade refers to as, "Branded Ports." These are usually the finest Ruby, that a house produces. They are priced at about, or just below the 20 Tawnies. Again, they'll keep, but maybe not as long as the already oxidized Tawnies.

        Finally, pick up a few Vintage Ports. If possible, get, say two bottles of an older vintage. I hate to say it, but the '94 is starting to be seen as an older vintage, and it's also one of the last that I collected en masse, as I will likely not live long enough for the '00, or later to come into their own. Actually, the '85s are being "dumped" a bit, as they never quite lived up to their press - the '94s did, and their price reflects that. Remember, the '85s were excellent, but the world press said that they were the end-all/be-all for Vintage Port, and it just never happened. My choice would be a couple to four '85s from Taylor, Fonseca, Dow and throw in a Smith-Woodhouse. All very, very good houses, from a very, very good year. Taste these, with a few more friends, as you will need to decant these (Vintage Port throws a ton of sediment, and it MUST be separated from the wine, that you will serve!), and will not last nearly so long, as the Tawnies or Branded Rubies.

        Vintage Ports are the pinnacle of Port wines. That said, I prefer my VPs as dessert, and NOT with dessert. In general, if there is food to be served, i.e. dessert, I'll nearly always reach for a Tawny, and usually a 20 Year. Also, I find that Tawnies go better with cigars, after the meal, than do the VPs. I want them, on their own, or with a few nuts and toast points, and not much else.

        Now for the sidebar: all Ports, with few rare exceptions, are blends. All Rubies are blends to re-create the "house-style" year in, year out. All "regualr" Tawnies are blends of various years, the average of which will be the date, i.e. 20 Year, to re-create the "house-style." Vintage Ports are blends several Quintas (basically vineyards) from the same year. The exceptions are Single Quinta Ports, that are not (usually) blends, and are often offered in Non-declared Vintage years, but are so good, that they are handled separately and bottled like VPs. Sometimes, the declaration of a Vintage is universal (all/most houses, i.e. '63, '70, '85, '94), and sometimes are declared by a house, or two. Also, consideration is given to the market and the frequency of such declarations. If '94 is a fully-declared Vintage, and Taylor-Fladgate has a great '95, they might not declare it, but instead do a Single Quinta (from their Quinta Vargellas), which will be great, though less pricey. One reason is to not dilute the market for the '94. These are great wines, but at lower prices. Same for LBVs (that Zin1953 mentioned). They are slight crosses between high-end Rubies, VPs and Tawnies, as they spend extra time in the wood. Nearly always very good wines, at lower prices. Last of the non-blends are the Colheitas, which are dated Tawnies with a year, not an average of the time in wood.

        In very general terms, Rubies are ready to go, upon release, as are 10-20-30-40 Year Tawnies and Colheitas. Most LBVs are not going to improve in the bottle (though there are some exceptions), while VPs and Single-Quinta Ports will. Some, not coming into their own, for decades - often MANY decades.

        I'd also suggest spending some time with a local retailer, who has a good selection of Port, and a knowledgable staff. Plan on spending the entire afternoon, if they know their stuff. Also, several writers have done some great books, dedicated to Port - James Suckling (WS), Michael Broadbent and more.

        Last, you will likely hear the terms: "Port of the wood," and "Port of the glass." This refers to where the aging is usually done and differentiates Tawnies (Port of the wood), from Vintage (Port of the glass). All Tawnies are aged in wood and ready to drink, upon release with little positive change in their bottle. VPs spend far less time in the wood, and age in the bottle (Port of the glass).

        Most of all, enjoy. Port is one of the finest wines on Earth, IMO, and offers a fantastic journey to acquire knowledge, which must come from actually drinking it. Gather your friends (or look for .375s of VP) to help you.


        PS Zin1953 mentioned "Crusted Port," which is an archaic term, that almost faded into obscurity. However, it has been recently revived by a very few houses. While I have a few, they are from the days, when that term was more often used. Kinda' like a trip down "memory lane" - thanks)