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Port - A Style Guide

Around the world, a quiet renaissance is happening. Wine drinkers from London to New York, Sydney to Singapore are rediscovering port.

Once associated with stuffy gentleman’s clubs, cigar lounges and corpulent ruddy-faced men, the face of port is changing.

Indeed, the renewed interest in port has spread to Australia, evidenced by the recent inclusion of two ports in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine VI. The inclusion of Seppeltsfield 100 year Old Para and Seppeltsfield Para Liqueur Tawny NV is recognition of Australia’s long history of making port and ultimately reflects the renewed interest in buying, collecting and enjoying port in Australia.

Port’s origins lie in Portugal, specifically the steeped terraces of the Douro Valley. For several centuries, a wide variety of grapes have been coaxed out of this hot, dry barren landscape and made into port.

At its core, Port is a simple wine. The grapes are harvested when very ripe and are allowed to partially ferment before the ferment is abruptly halted by adding brandy, creating a fortified wine of 20% alcohol, with considerable residual sweetness.

Although originally Portuguese, port styles are made around the world. Australia has a long history of producing port that continues to this day, with a number of top producers in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley and Rutherglen, Victoria.

With a wide range of styles produced both in Portugal and Australia, choosing a port to buy can initially seem daunting. The variety of styles made is the result of different production and ageing regimes.

Below is a quick reference guide to the most popular styles produced, to help you find and select the port style that is right for you.

Tawny Port

The most popular style of port, tawny ports are made from red grapes and are aged in large wooden barrels, gradually exposing them to oxidation and evaporation. This ‘oxidative ageing’ gives tawny port it’s characteristic ‘tawny’ golden-brown colour, and imparts attractive nutty and rancio flavours to the wine. Within the tawny category several styles are made.

Reserve Tawny

A blend of wood aged tawny port that has spent generally 7 years in barrels.

Tawny Port with an Indication of Age

These are blends of several vintages with the average years in wood indicated on the label. Portugal designates official categories which include 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years. Long ageing in wood results in ports with greater concentration and complexity.


These are tawny ports made from a single vintage and the actual vintage is stated on the label. In Portugal the minimum time in wood is seven years, although most are aged for far longer.

White Port

Made from white grapes, white port varies in style from dry to very sweet. Best served chilled on its own or mixed with tonic water, lemon and ice, it makes a refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day. White Ports can also be designated Reserve or have an Indication of Age (10, 20, 30 or 40 years old on the label).

Ruby Port

Ruby ports are matured in tanks of concrete, wood or stainless steel and are bottled young. Unlike tawny ports, they do not undergo oxidative ageing and hence possess a rich ruby colour.

Reserve Ruby Port

Aged for three to five yards, reserve ruby ports are a premium style of ruby, often the blend of two or three different vintages.

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV)

Produced in good years, LBV is made from a single year’s harvest. Bottled after four to six years in wood, LBV ports develop a deep inky black colour with notes of fruitcake and spice. Two styles of LBV exist, filtered LBV which are ready to drink upon release, and unfiltered LBV which improve with further bottle age.

Vintage Port

Made only in exceptional years, vintage ports come from a single year’s harvest. Matured in wooden vats for two to three years before being bottled unfiltered, vintage ports possess exceptional intensity and concentration and continue to evolve, gaining further complexity over decades of ageing in bottle.

Single Quinta Vintage Port

A vintage port from a single harvest and made from an individual quinta or estate, Single Quinta Vintage Ports are quite rare. Like all vintage ports, they gain further complexity with long bottle ageing.

To discover Langton’s full range of ports, click here.

Andrea Pritzker, Langton’s

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