Port and Port Styles, Part 2: Vintage, LBV, Single Quinta and Colheitas

By Andrew Barrow

Vintage Port PosterLast week the basic styles of port (tawny and ruby) were detailed before moving on up to the delicious (and my favourite category), aged tawnys.

Vintage Port
It is Vintage Port which receives all the hype and attention and what most people think of when discussing the subject; but it accounts for a tiny fraction of overall port sales. At the same time, vintage port is viewed as the flagship wine for the producers.

While it is the most long-lived of the port styles, it is also the easiest to make. Wines from a single year spend two years in barrel before bottling. Rather than holding on to stocks for maturing themselves, the producers pass this on to the consumer who can sit on the wine for ten or twenty years until the wine is ready to drink. It is the quality of the fruit that raises vintage port to its flagship status. Only the highest-quality grapes from the very best vineyards following an outstanding year are selected. Samples of the wine are judged by the local authorities and if deemed of sufficient quality, the producer can “declare” a vintage.

Wine of vintage potential is made in most years, however, and other considerations are used before deciding to declare: market conditions, for example, and the actual size of the harvest. On average only three vintage years are declared each decade. With such long aging and minimum treatment, vintage port will throw a sediment and will thus require decanting.

Late Bottled Vintage
Another confusing name in the ranks of port — Late Bottle Vintage or LBV has little to do with “proper” vintage port. The grapes are taken from a single year and can either be the so-called “traditional” (in that they are unfiltered and can throw a sediment like vintage port) or, more common, those that have been filtered. The former generally come from non-declared years and age quicker than vintage ports; five years or so as a generalisation and should be the style to plump for over a filtered LBV. These do not have the depth and complexity of non-filtered, although the fruit-driven style is very popular.

Vintage Character
The rules are loose and unformed. but vintage character is really just a premium style of ruby port; made from superior-quality grapes and aged for four years or so in wood before bottling. Many vintage character wines carry a brand name such as Warres Warrior, Cockburns Special Reserve, Grahams Six Grapes, Taylors First Estate and the like.

Single Quinta
A relatively new idea in the Douro valley wines made from a single vineyard or Quinta. Most are made from a single vintage, aged for a couple of years before bottling without filtration, thus requiring decanting. In declared vintage years these wines will usually go into the vintage blend, so these appear in between years that have been declared. Many single-quinta wines are sold only when deemed ready to drink so they do not require additional bottle aging. While the big port shippers manage their own vineyards, several small vineyard owners have produced their own wines such as Quinta do Crasto and Quinta de la Rosa.

The word colheita means “harvest” or “vintage,” but colheita ports are again different from vintage port. They are a type of tawny port, from a single year, and bottled with the harvest date on the label. To be placed in this category they must receive at least seven years aging in wood; thus taking on the familiar tawny colour.

White Port
Port should be red! Except when it is white, of course. White port is made in much the same way as red port, only using white grapes. Few see wood and while many are labelled dry they often have a certain amount of residual sugar. They are generally drunk as an aperitif or mixed with lemonade or soda to make a longer drink. Many are not that flavourful.

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Reader Comments

‘The pleasures of Port’ von Andrew Barrow
Andrew Barrow, Herausgeber des Wein-Blogs ‘Spittoon’, veröffentlichte jetzt unter ‘Wine Sediments’ einen zweiteiligen Artikel über Portwein: ‘The pleasures of Port’. Im ersten Teil behandelt er die beiden unterschiedlichen Portweinarten: Ruby und Ta…

My friend introduced me to port many years ago after a birthday dinner (mine, not hers). I don’t remember what type it was, but I remember how it was sweet and viscous–I loved how it was so smooth, deep with rich flavor. It instantly became my favorite after dinner drink!

I always see tawny/ruby listed on dessert wine lists, but never truly knew the differences. These two articles have been really informative. Thanks!

Port and Port Styles.
Over the last three weeks an overview of the differing styles of port, penned by me, has appeared on the new Wine Sediments blog. I love a good port… Ruby and Tawny Ports Vintage, LBV, Single Quinta and Colheitas Ports…