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There are two kinds of wine that are distinctly Portuguese. One is the very satisfying mostly-white, rosé, and red wines from the Vinho Verde region, and the other is the sweet fortified port wine which also happens to be one of the country’s national treasures.
There are many kinds of fortified sweet wines, but a wine is only considered port if the grapes are grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley region where many of today’s famed wineries were founded centuries ago. In particular, the Alto Douro region is the planet’s oldest demarcated wine region (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) where wine has been made for over 2,000 years, technically making it a pre-historic winemaking region.
Maybe all this mind-blowing history is too overwhelming to wrap your head around. But don’t worry; you don’t have to think about the wine, you just have to drink it. Thankfully, port wines are among the world’s top dessert wines, either to pair with a dessert or to have as a dessert. And that’s why we put together this list of our best port wine selections, so you can have your cake and drink it too. Just please remember—serve them nicely chilled.
Best Overall: Dow's Vintage Port 2016
The Symington family has had a hand in many of the Douro Valley’s great ports, but the one that truly stands out is the Dow’s Vintage Port of 2016. Made with mature grapes from their Vinha dos Ecos vineyards that endured under the dry heat of the summer growing season, this is a bottle that exemplifies just how powerful a port can be.
Intense purple floral notes are backed by plum, blackberry, chocolate, licorice and raisin. Evenly balanced with a lively finish, this bottle will be best enjoyed in 10-40 years from now, but good luck waiting that long.
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Best Under $30: Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port
Among the first makers of port to invest in their own vineyards back in the 1890s, Graham’s has earned the accolades as a major port producer to this day. The Six Grapes label has been produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley for over a century and remains one of their most desired wines. Here’s a little secret: in years when Graham’s declares a vintage, the best of the best grapes go into the vintage bottling and the remaining, equally remarkable grapes, are blended into Six Grapes. The vintage-dated bottle runs into triple digits, while Six Grapes remains a sturdy under-$30!
This bottle has strong aromas of plum, bolstered by notes of blackberry, currant, cassis and dark chocolate, with raisin and fig on the palate. This pairs well with rich desserts like fudge or cheesecake and stays fresh for two to three weeks (in the refrigerator) after opening.
Best Tawny: Cockburn's 20 Year Old Tawny Port (500ML)
There’s no right or wrong way to age a tawny in wood barrels, but some believe 20 years achieves the best balance of flavor and structure. There’s no better bottle to prove it than this doozy from Cockburn (pronounced “COH-burn”). Known for their high standards in quality control and for owning some of the largest vineyards in Portugal, gives them an edge that can’t be beat.
You can top an ice cream sundae with the aromatics in this bottle: caramel, walnuts, butterscotch, honey. Raisin and candied apricot coat the palate. This port is smooth with a light touch, but a bold flavor and a lingering nutty finish. This is the tawny to rule all tawnies.
Runner-Up Best Tawny: Warre's Otima 10 Year Tawny Port
And here we are with another winner from Warre’s because, frankly, you deserve it. Only this time, it’s their smooth amber-colored Otima 10 Year Tawny. For the sake of consistency, this bottle also earned great critical acclaim, only this tawny is lighter than your average port making it a wine for any occasion.
Dripping with oaky notes of caramel, fig, almond, brown sugar, and cherry, this tawny is full-bodied and slightly smoky. This is a great example of balance of fruit and acidity. The tannins are low, but it is high in satisfaction.
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Best White Port: Sandeman Apitiv White Port Reserve
Sandeman’s been making wine since the year 1790. When you’ve been making wine as long as that, one would assume it’s because they’ve been making wine the right way all along. In this case, Sandeman’s Apitiv White Port gets its kick from using ever-so-slightly over-ripened grapes which get fermented in steel tanks. The result is a classic port that’s both traditional and exceptional.
This bottle is bursting with orange peel, apricot, raisin and balsamic notes. Nutty with a balanced structure and fine acidity, this white port has a smooth and elegant finish.
Best Ruby: Taylor Fladgate Fine Ruby Porto
Another old-timer in the field of port, Taylor Fladgate’s been in operation since 1692. Their port is of such high quality that the business managed to survive past Portugal’s disruptive and devastating earthquake of 1755 and bring you this delicious wine today. To keep up with modern times, the winery commits to sustainable practices for this perfect, efficiently-produced after-dinner wine.
Aged for roughly two years in oak vats, resulting in jammy black plum and blackberry on the nose with an oaky chocolatey undertone. Heavy flavors of dark fruits and a hearty, full-bodied structure give way to a hint of spice on the finish.
Best Rosé: Porto Valdouro Rose
From the Wiese & Krohn estate, the Quinta do Retiro Novo off the Rio Torto Valley, comes this phosphorescent rosé. Pressed from temperature-controlled grapes and grown on shale soil vineyards, this bottle is your best bet if you like the sweetness of port, and also like everything to be glittery and pink.
This rosé confection has a heavy cherry aroma and flavors of raspberry, pomegranate and gooseberry. Balanced and medium-bodied, this bottle is the perfect aperitif served extra chilled before a meal.
Best Vintage-Dated: Warre's Vintage Port 2017
This vintage port is made from the fruit of each of Warre’s three vineyards in the Douro: Cavadinha, Retiro and Telhada—all spots that have been growing port wine grapes for centuries. Combine that with their traditional treading techniques and modern vinification methods and it’s no surprise why major wine reviewers across the board stamped this bottle with a rating in the mid-to-high 90s.
Saying this wine is excellent won’t cut it, so we have to upgrade to a Mr. Burns-style “eeeexcellent.” Floral and black plum mingles with chocolate, toffee, fig, and caramel on the nose. This vintage has a deep structure and fresh acidity. You will be impressed.
Runner-Up Best Vintage-Dated: 2009 Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha
Taylor Fladgate strikes again with their powerhouse 2009 Vinha Velha. The year was particularly dry with almost no rain in the summer, leading to a low yield. But the Vinha Velha vines were old enough (and shall we say, rugged enough) to withstand the stress, making this port one of their toughest vintages.
This sweet, deep-purple, tannin-heavy bottle is startlingly bold. It features notes of chocolate, raisin, cinnamon, blackberry and black currant. As scintillating as it would be to drink right now, you might want to give it some time before uncorking.
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Best Colheita: 2007 Quinta Das Carvalhas Colheita
The vineyards at Quinta das Carvalhas have a front-row seat at a sharp bend of the famed Douro River where their vines are over a century old. The wood-aging process for their Colheita bottle is minimal, letting the fine fruit hog the spotlight.
Oaky and spicy with intense chocolate and raisin aromas, this wine is smooth, balanced, and comfortably sweet. Rich and mellow toffee is on the palate with red fruits and caramel flavors. The wood-aging shines through after a hearty gulp.
Best Australian Port-Style Wine: Penfolds Club Tawny Port
Obviously, port is a distinctively Portuguese wine, but there are non-Portuguese winemakers, like Australia’s Penfolds, who do a commendable job of replicating the port-style with their own bent. Penfolds grows their fruit in several vineyards outside of South Australia’s Adelaide region where they’re known for producing a wide spectrum of fantastic wine varieties, namely shiraz. Their scrumptious tawny, a blend of mataro (mourvèdre), shiraz, and grenache grapes, is a testament to their versatility.
Warm, syrupy, and pleasantly mellow, this bottle has notes of caramel, spicy chocolate, toffee, raisin and smoked walnuts. This is rounded out with sweet tannins and a long satisfying finish.
Best Splurge: Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port Capela 2017
The Quinta do Vesuvio winery has been around as far back as the mid-1500s, but is currently run by the famed Symington family who’ve preserved the traditions of their Douro appellation to bring you absolute gems like this vintage port. The Symington family are into their fifth generation as makers of port and the grapes used for the knockout Capela 2017 grew off of vines that have been around since their first generation was working the land.
There are heady aromas of black tea, lavender, blueberry, black currant. Coarse tannins underscore the fresh flavor of dark and red fruits. This is dry with a dramatically long finish. Pair this well-structured stunner with rich meats and cheeses.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup, except for the Ormes de Pez and Unico. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.