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Nov 17, 2011 02:59 PM

Differences between different country's ports?


I was introduced to ports down in Australia a few years back and have assembled a few bottles from multiple wineyards that I visited on several trips down there. I have done a lot or reading recently on ports and was curious what differences there are between what I have been drinking and something like Dows, Grahams, Sandemans, etc. There is a lot of literature out there on Tawnys, Rubys, LBVs etc but nothing that I have run across discusses the differences between what is produced in different countries. I was just curious if anyone had any insight.

I was also curious if anyone had any favorites from Australia they could recommend? I am trying to add to my cellar and try new things. I have been a fan of the older tawnys but am open to hearing anybody's suggestions.

Thanks for the help!


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  1. Porto *only* comes from the region of the Douro Valley in Portugal. Some 46 (47?) grape varieties are permitted in the making of true Porto,many of them white. Quite often white grapes are used in making red Porto, but that is up to each producer.

    There are many ways to categorize true Porto . . .

    One version of an outline (hard to do when you can't use tabs) of Porto would look something like this. Keep in mind, by the way, that there are many different ways to do this outline; also, this applies only to real (i.e.: Portuguese) Porto.


    1. Ruby Porto (defined as red Porto wines bottled with less than seven years of wood aging).

    1a. No indication of age.
    1a1. True Ruby Porto, bottled very young.
    1a2. Vintage Character Porto (a fuller, "beefier" style of Ruby Porto).
    1a3. Crusted Porto (a non-vintage blend of between four-and-six years of age).

    1b. Ruby Ports with a Vintage date.
    1b1. Late Bottled Vintage Porto (by law, bottled between 4-6 years of vintage -- note, numbers here are rounded off).
    1b1a. Traditional, unfined, unfiltered (this will improve with further bottle aging).
    1b1b. "Regular" (fined and/or filtered; generally doesn't improve with bottle age).
    1b2. Vintage Porto.
    1b2a. True Vintage Porto (a producer's "main," showcase product -- by law, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).
    1b2b. Single-quinta Vintage Porto (either from a small, estate, or from a large producer, but made from a single estate; again, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).
    1b2c. Second label Vintage Porto (generally from a large producer, but bottled under a "second label" -- generally these are fine Vintage Porto, but not considered "good enough" to be bottled until the producer's main trademark).

    2. Tawny Porto -- red Porto wines bottled with 7+ years of wood aging.

    2a. No indication of age.
    2a1. Young Tawny (often a mix of Ruby and Tawny).
    2a2. True Tawny Porto.
    2a3. Tawny Reserva, a usually branded bottling of Tawny Porto that is "older" than the "true" Tawny Porto.

    2b. With a general indication of age.
    2b1. 10-Year Tawny Porto.
    2b2. 20-Year Tawny Porto.
    2b3. 30-Year Tawny Porto.
    2b4. 40-Year Tawny Porto.

    2c. With a specific indication of age.
    2c1. Colheita Porto.
    2c2. Garrafeira Porto.

    3. White Porto.

    3a. Bottled young.
    3a1. Dry.
    3a2. Sweet.

    3b. Bottled after 7+ years of wood aging.
    3b1. Dry.
    3b2. Sweet.


    But wines produced in the STYLE of Port wine are made virtually everywhere wine is made. They are not Porto, but rather wines made in the style of . . . and NONE of the definitions (or their accompanying regulations) that appear above apply to the Port-styled wines that are produced in California, Washington, Missouri, New York State, Texas, let alone countries like Australia, South Africa, Israel, and many others.

    Generally speaking, winemakers outside of Portugal can (and do) use whatever grapes they wish in the making of Port-styled wines. California does have *some* Portuguese varieties, but mostly they are the minor ones like Tinta Cao (versus the major varieties like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz). Far more common in California is the use of Zinfandel, and several producers use Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah/Shiraz for their wines.

    Australians typically use grapes like (alphabetically) Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvedre, Shiraz, and more. And so it goes . . .

    As a result, wines produced in a Port-style generally vary widely in terms of taste -- Australian Tawnies often remind me more of sherry in some ways -- and are significantly different from true Porto.


    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Thanks Jason, I ran across your breakdown when I was doing a search earlier today through past threads and what you wrote makes sense. It seems that at least in Australia that they follow similar conventions as the Portuguese in making Port style wines. I would guess the biggest discriminator would be the use of different grapes leading obviously to a much different taste for their wines. I have sampled many of their different VPs, tawnies, etc but don't have much to compare it to.

      I guess the simple answer is that I will have to start drinking more Ports to compare the tastes for myself and see what strikes a chord with my own tastebuds and wallet.

      Thanks again,

    2. As Jason mentions, there is Port, and then there are port-styled wines, done is somewhat the same style, but usually with many differences.

      In OZ, many producers are removing the "port" from their wine's names, so that you will often see something like "Library Select Dessert Wine."

      In the US, one often sees varietal port-styled wines.

      Also, going back to Port, there are many, many variations from Vintage Port, to Ruby Port, and then Tawny Ports. There are several books, that go into great details on the various Ports, their similarities, and their differences.

      Now, I have had many OZ port-styled wines (the names have been in flux for several years now, so one almost needs a program, to tell the players apart), and the vast majority are interesting as dessert wines.



      1 Reply
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        >>> I have had many OZ port-styled wines . . . and the vast majority are interesting as dessert wines. <<<

        For me, THIS is the key. I've had, and enjoyed, many Aussie Tawnies, but a) I can NOT call them "Port,", and b) they remind me very little of true Tawny Porto (from Portugal).

        BTW, I can't bring myself to call Port-styled wines from California or ZA "Port" either, so this isn't a knock on the Aussies. But then again, I'm a purist and don't call sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region of France by the "C" word either . . .


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