Cold weather and cosy evenings call for a nightcap. With its warming fruitiness and satisfying thickness, port is an obvious choice for those winter months.
But if your experience of the fortified wine consists of dusting off that bottle from the cupboard once a year when the festive cheese board arrives, you’re missing out. Produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal, and offering an array of flavours from molasses to bitter chocolate, maybe it’s time to properly discover it.
So what makes a good port? The first thing to know is there are a number of different styles to consider, from ruby to white. While tawny port for example has a nutty quality due to a process of ageing in wooden barrels, white port made from white grapes is often mixed in cocktails.
Overall, we’re looking for sweetness that’s not overpowering, allowing some of the lovely, rich berry of the fruit flavours to come through. And in the longer-aged ports on our list we’re seeking character – those deeper notes of fig, nuts, and butterscotch.
Though commonly enjoyed post-meal, there’s no reason you can’t start enjoying it as a long drink too. At around half the strength of the likes of gin and vodka, port is becoming a drink of choice for those looking for something a little lighter. Port and tonic anyone? Here’s our guide to the best, to take you from Christmas and beyond.
Fonseca Crusted Port, 2006, 20%: £23.95 for 75cl, Amazon
Crusted – what now? This rare style of port is only made by a small number of producers and is characterised by its lack of filtration, hence the name. The wine will form a “crust” in the bottle, so decant it before drinking.
Made with a blend of wines from two or three vintages, this well-rounded style balances the best characteristics of a number of harvests. And Fonseca’s is no exception. There are slight strawberries and cream on the nose, and on the first sip too.
With no heat here at all, there’s just a lovely, delicate sweetness that then gives way to more winey notes. But really, it is all about that beautiful creaminess. Pair with dessert – a crème brûlée would be our ultimate match.
Ramos Pinto RP20 20 Year Old Tawny Port, 20.5%: £52.38 for 75cl, Amazon
This tawny port is made from a selection of several plots from one of the oldest vineyards in the Douro region. The result of that long ageing process is a beautifully deep, rich rusty brown liquid that bursts with fig, toasted nut and quince aromas. Velvety soft and smooth to sip, there’s zero aggression to this mellow little number – just a little gentle heat from the alcohol.
We love the slight sourness, roasted notes, and a caramel sweetness that all fade to a lovely, savoury note. An oily cheese is an obvious match, but we’re also partial to sipping this slightly chilled, alongside a mince pie (if this season calls for one).
Graham’s Fine White Port Wine, 19%: £12.45 for 75cl, Amazon
Now, if you really want to get into the P&Ts, then this is the port to do it with. Another longstanding brand, Graham’s has been in the port business since 1820. As it’s a white port, you’re going to find this a little more vibrant and rowdy than the longer-aged reds.
Fresh, salty and with a little grapefruit and creaminess to the finish, there’s a lot going on here, but it all works. Serve it chilled with tonic and you really can’t go wrong.
Warre’s Otima 10-Year Old Tawny, 20%: £15.49 for 50cl, The Drink Shop
Well now, this is one fruity character. From the oldest British Port House, founded in Portugal in 1670, comes this vibrant, ruby-coloured tawny. This port has made our list for its standout flavour.
The first sip will give you quite an intense hit of orange-peel, followed by a little burnt sugar, then a hit of berries, finishing with some savoury, pastry-like, bready notes. Accessible both flavour and price-wise, this is an excellent first venture into the deeper flavours of port for those beginning to explore it.
Kopke 30 Years Old White, 20%: £74.99 for 37.5cl, Amazon
You may have encountered ports by Kopke before, as its stylishly minimal and modern-looking bottles just tend to stand out. It may surprise you then that it actually claims to be the oldest brand of port wine, founded in 1638, with all bottles still handpainted. Kopke produces a number of styles and age statements, but it’s the white ports and tawny that really have us salivating.
Though we want to give a special mention to the sublime nuttiness of the 20-year-old tawny, we have a particular soft spot for this 30-year-old white. Be warned, this doesn’t come cheap, very justifiably. But we can’t get enough of its delicious nutty, caramelised apple notes with just a hint of citrus.
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2012, 20%: £10 for 75cl, Amazon
You certainly get a lot for your money with this one. The almost purple hue of the satisfyingly thick liquid is your first clue as to the intensity of flavour contained within.
Almost Vimto-like in fruitiness – and believe us, that’s a good thing – there’s plum, blackberry and cherry upfront. However, there aren’t really any savoury notes to this one, and little wood character, which is either a plus or a negative depending on your tastes. For what it’s worth, we love it.
Krohn Colheita 2004, 20%: £24.01 for 75cl, Uvinum
Founded in 1865 by two Norwegians, Wiese & Krohn is known in particular for its colheitas. The style, which has some similarities to a tawny, is aged in wood for a minimum of seven years before being bottled. This particular port was bottled in 2015. Deep red in colour it feels a little thinner in texture than some others on our list.
Overwhelmingly fruit-forward, this is a vibrant and fruity wine, with some delicious nutty notes. Pair it with something salty. Also because this one comes bottled with a cork stopper, open when you’ve got a crowd on hand to savour it with you. Sweet, accessible and, we have to say, excellent value.
Waitrose Late-Bottled Vintage Port, Symington Family Estates, 20%: £10.99 for 75cl, Waitrose Cellar
Waitrose has teamed up with Symington, owner of both Warre’s and Graham’s, to produce this LBV port. One of the most wine-like of the ports on our list, there’s less sweetness, but a lot of berry fruits here, meaning if you’re not overly sweet-toothed, this may be the one for you. Mellow, chewy and with a hint of acidity, this is one to make time for. Grab a good book, settle into that armchair and sip away.
The Verdict: Best ports
We just can’t get enough of the Fonseca Crusted Port, with its delicious combination of berry fruit flavours, and a distinctly creamy finish. Delicious and incredible value.