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WWBG: Give the Gift of Port Wine

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). This column is written by Dominion owner Arash Tafakor.

Well into the holiday season, more and more customers are asking for a great gift recommendation for their loved ones.

Any wine lover would be perfectly content with a nice high-end cabernet or even a bottle of champagne. However, if you want to get a wine that a person can enjoy throughout the cold winter, port is definitely the way to go as some ports can keep up to a month after opening.

Here’s a basic guide to choose the port that’s right for you.

Port wine at Dominion Wine and BeerWhat is Port?

Port is a fortified wine from the mountainous Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. Under strict guidelines of the European Union protected designation of origin, only wines from Portugal may be labeled Port or Porto. The grapes used to make ports come from variety of grapes grown in the Douro region that are blended together. After this process, winemakers let the fermentation process begin as the yeast starts to convert sugar into alcohol (some wineries still do traditional foot pressing).

A few days later, winemakers add in a neutral grape spirit or brandy to stop the fermentation process, leaving the wine with a load of residual sugar and higher alcohol content (18% – 22% a.b.v.). This sweetness and heavy alcohol content is why port is considered a dessert wine, after dinner wine, or for me — a nightcap.

Styles of Port

Port wine comes in many different styles. Each style is dependent on how the port has been vinified, stored, and aged. The two main categories of port are wood aged and bottle aged, and each has many subcategories. For the purpose of simplicity and this article, I am going to write about the most popular and best selling style ports.

Tawny Port

Tawny port is the most bought and served port in Portugal and the rest of the world. Tawny ports are made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels that allow a slight amount of oxygen inside allowing the wine to slowly oxidize. As the wine oxidizes in the barrel, the color of the wine turns from a dark red color to a beautiful golden brown color.

Tawny ports come in four official categories, 10 year, 20 year, 30 year, and 40 year — all based on the average age of the blends used. The longer these wines spend in wood, the more complexities are derived from the wine. Tawny’s typical have a distinct nuttiness with butterscotch and vanilla flavors that make this style of port absolutely delicious.

Ruby Port

Ruby ports are the youngest most basic wood aged ports. Ruby ports do not spend much time in oak barrels, therefore are much more fruit driven than their Tawny counterpart. Ruby ports tend to be less expensive compared to other ports as well. The lower price does not mean lower quality and less taste, just less aging. Ruby ports can also be served slightly chilled, and pair perfect for a fruit dessert or a cold night.

Vintage Port (VP)

Vintage ports are the best of the best that any port producer can offer. On average, a VP is produced 3 times per decade. A port producer must make a declaration only when they believe they have enough quantity of very top quality grapes to bottle from a single harvest. Producers cannot just declare any particular vintage a VP. Producers have to keep a top reputation, and could lose their credibility if they declare a bad vintage a VP.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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