Beer & Wine Wine

What the #$@! Do I Do with This? Port: What It Is and How to Use It.

There’s much more to this after-dinner sipper than one might think.

Photo illustration of various bottles with blacked-out labels against an orange background with a white scribble emphasizing a Port bottle
Image: / Tim Nusog

You bought a bottle of booze because a cocktail recipe called for a very minute amount. Now you’re stuck with the remaining 9/10ths of the bottle and wondering what to do with it. No worries. Thrifty bartenders weigh in with tips and recipes for getting every last drop out of an underutilized ingredient so it doesn’t gather dust on your bar shelf.

If your only association with port wine is as an after-dinner beverage sipped by smoking-jacket-clad septuagenarians, you’re missing out. Sure, port is perfect to sip by the fire or serve with (or as) dessert, but it’s also one versatile cocktail component.

Port was created in Portugal as a way to preserve the country’s red wines during their long, hot journey down the river from the vineyards in the Douro Valley to the town of Porto, where they are stored in warehouses and then shipped around the world.

The main takeaway for using port in cocktails is that one bottle can do the job of several ingredients. It can add sweetness, replace vermouth, add multilayered flavor and temper the alcohol content of high-proof drinks. Talk about a multitasker.

Just like with vermouth, once you open a bottle of port, it should be refrigerated and used within several weeks. (The darker the color, the longer you can keep it once you uncork it.) “Port mixes well with a wide range of ingredients, from fresh fruit and berries, herbs and spices to vegetable juices and teas,” says Lulu Martinez, the director of events for Liquid Productions in Aston, Pennsylvania.

Finish that bottle by mixing one (or all) of these three cocktails.

Photo illustration of red Port New York Sour in rocks glass on blue background with white hand-drawn lines / Tim Nusog

Port New York Sour

“Generally, port has a round, comforting, viscous sweetness that can play really nicely with Sours, Bucks and Mules,” says Sarah Rosner, the head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. “I have also noticed a trend toward low-ABV cocktails recently and think it will start shifting from a modifier to a base.” A healthy one-ounce pour of tawny port in place of the traditional red wine will help deplete that bottle fast—and lend nutty and caramel notes to this cocktail.

Get the recipe.

Photo illustration of deep red Improved Dunlop cocktail in coupe glass on blue background with white hand-drawn lines / Tim Nusog

Improved Dunlop

“If you want to take a classic cocktail to the next level, substitute port in place of vermouth as your spirit modifier,” says Martinez. This rum Manhattan uses a generous pour of tawny port instead of sweet vermouth. “[And] try utilizing white port the way you might a blanc or dry vermouth in a Martini,” she says.

Get the recipe.

Photo illustration of pink Lounge Chair Afternoon cocktail in rocks glass with grapefruit garnish on blue background with white hand-drawn lines / Tim Nusog

Lounge Chair Afternoon

“Pink port has lovely hints of fresh berries and a light natural sweetness and makes for very sessionable cocktails,” says Martinez. Straddling somewhere between a white and a ruby, this style works with everything from gin and vodka to tequila and rum. “Port’s lower alcohol levels with vibrant flavors add a fantastic component for playing off other spirits.”

Get the recipe.