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: Croft Reserve Tawny
Tasting Notes: Toasted almond, fig, blackberry | ABV: 20% | Style: Tawny
When it comes to crowd pleasing-meets-quality, Croft’s reserve tawny offers a lot. Made at Quinta da Roeda on a lovely, sunny, river-adjacent plot in the Douro, it combines both older wines from Croft’s rickhouses and younger, fresher wines just coming out of the press. Meaning, the wine has a good hit of complexity and copper color of an older tawny with those rich, concentrated fig notes of a younger port.
Great value for the price, and since it’s not really meant for aging, it twists your arm to drink it now. It’s affordable, but rich and complex, ideal for wine drinkers and cocktailers.
Best Under $30: Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port
Tasting Notes: Floral, plum, chocolate, licorice | ABV: 20% | Style: Vintage
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
Tasting Notes: Blackberry, current, cassis, dark chocolate | ABV: 20% | Style: Aged Tawny
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
Tasting Notes: Walnuts, caramel, honey | ABV: 20% | Style: Tawny
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.
Related: Best Sweet Wines
Best White Port: Sandeman Apitiv Reserve White Port
Tasting Notes: Orange peel, apricot, raisin, balsamic | ABV: 20% | Style: White port
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
Tasting Notes: Oak, chocolate, dark fruit | ABV: 20% | Style: Ruby
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 Rosé
Tasting Notes: Cherry, raspberry, pomegranate | ABV: 19% | Style: 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: Niepoort Vintage 2007
Tasting Notes: Mint, plum jam, leather | ABV: 20% | Style: Vintage
There’s incredible depth when it comes to winemaker Dirk van Niepoort’s wines. You get rich chocolate and licorice notes on the palate, giving the deep fruit a tannic balance. Deep purple in color, it’s got oak notes but well integrated fruit and herbal qualities. Try it with your stinkiest stilton. With the 2007 vintage, it needs time to integrate a lot of those powerful notes, but let it decant or let it sit for a few years and you’re left with a real treat.
Best Colheita: Quinta Das Carvalhas Colheita 2007
Tasting Notes: Mellow toffee, wood, spice | ABV: 19.5% | Style: 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
Tasting Notes: Smoked walnuts, spicy chocolate, toffee | ABV: 18% | Style: 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
Tasting Notes: Black tea, tannic currant, red fruit | ABV: 20% | Style: Vintage port
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, and 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.
Related: Best Wine Glasses
Best Aged White: Kopke 20-Year Old White
Tasting Notes: Orange rind, marzipan, citrus ABV: 20% | Style: White port
It’s not often you lean towards a white port when you’re looking for a bottle with an age statement. But Kopke is sitting on an impressive stock of aged white ports, and frequently releases cult bottles with an excellent number of years on them. This particular bottle calls for a blend of Arinot, Viosinho, Gouveio, and Malvasia Fina, aged for 20 years in wood. The oak mellows out the sweeter floral flavors of white port and imparts deep copper flavors without subduing the bright acidity.
It's lush and balanced, with an elegant sweetness balanced out by concentrated notes of orange rind, toast, marzipan and citrus.
Best for Cocktails: Taylor Fladgate LBV
Tasting Notes: currant, chocolate | ABV: 20% | Style: Late bottle vintage
While you wouldn’t be remiss to drink Taylor Fladgate late bottle vintage neat, skip the snifter and lean on this bottle for all manner of cocktails. You get bold, intense flavors and since it doesn’t usually need extended time aging in bottle, you get a nice price for mixing in drinks. You have the rich notes of currant and chocolate that hold up well in something like a Manhattan in place of vermouth. In the winter, port wine will play sidekick in any number of drinks. Try it instead of vermouth in Manhattan.
Related: Best Wine Fridges
If you’re entering the category, Croft (view at Drizly) makes a highly accessible bottle for fanatics, newcomers, and beyond. If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a show-worthy bottle, consider Cockburn’s Tawny (view at Drizly).
What to Look For in Port Wine
White! Rose! Tawny! Vintage! There are different ports for different people. Whites are bright and best served chilled, vintage ports are pricier, but ready to sit in your cellar. Rose ports are a happy medium – easy for sunny days, after dinner drinks, and beyond.
Consider how the port will be served in your glass. Do you want a neat, after-dinner sipper for ending your meal on a high? Do you want a refreshing, bright port? Do you want something that shines in cocktails, or a white port to pair with tonic? Port is a diverse category, and find a bottle that suits your palate and purpose.
Are you planning on letting your port rest for years? Consider a port with age-worthy qualities. Look for vintages that show potential, or consider vintage bottled-aged ports that are crafted to sit for years to come.
What exactly is Port?
“Port is a type of fortified wine produced in the Douro region of Portugal,” describes Anthony Caporale, Director of Spirits Education at the Institute of Culinary Education. “The name comes from the city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, which was the hub of the port wine trade from the late 1600's. Like other fortified wines, port has a distilled spirit (in this case a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente) added to it to increase the alcohol content and help preserve the wine. The spirit is added during fermentation to stop the process, leaving unfermented sugar in the wine that gives port its notably sweet, rich character.
What's the best way to drink Port?
Port is often served as an after-dinner drink — a digestif — alongside desserts or cheese and dried fruits. Outside of those conventions, port is beautiful in cocktails and an excellent aperitif. Start your meal off with a port and tonic.
How do you store it?
It depends on how long you anticipate aging it for! If something is left to sit for time, let it rest on its side away from direct sunlight, just as you would any fine wine. If you have an open bottle, you can store it at room temperature or in the fridge. Chilling a bottle will extend the lifespan — the cold slows down the oxidation process.
What temperature should you serve Port?
Both tawny and ruby ports could benefit from a slight chill, and white ports should be kept at fridge temperature.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Kate Dingwall is a seasoned wine and spirits writer and trained sommelier. She’s spent a good amount of time hiking up and down the Douro Valley and complains about her legs accordingly.
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