|1. Dalva||2. Delaforce||3. Warre’s|
Port is one of the most underrated beverages on the market today. Most people associate port wine with grandma’s cooking, but it is actually quite versatile as a beverage. It can be paired with a dessert, it can be the dessert, or it can be mixed into a cocktail. And because it has so long been written off as a cooking wine, its price point remains quite accessible. There are some great ports out there delivering phenomenal quality for their price.
Let’s talk about Ruby port
Red port, also known as Ruby port, is one of the most common and most accessible kinds of port. Once the wine has been turned into port via fortification, the port is generally aged in stainless steel or concrete tanks. This helps to maintain ruby port’s bright fruit notes like blackberry and raspberry. But sometimes, especially for higher quality ruby ports, winemakers will choose to age their ports in oak barrels, offering subtle notes of honey or caramel to go with the fruit flavors.
Ruby port can be classified into four sub-categories:
- Ruby: The youngest, fruitiest, and often the cheapest style of port. This is the basic type of red port.
- Reserve: This style is still meant to be drunk young, but is of better quality than basic ruby port.
- Vintage: This style is aged for 2-3 years in barrels, and it is single-vintage (i.e. all of the grapes are picked in the same year). This style is best drunk after 20-40 years.
- Late Bottled Vintage: This style is aged for 4-6 years in barrels but is intended to be drunk young.
Top 5 Best Ruby Port Wines 2021
C. da Silva was founded in 1862 and was acquired in 1933 by Clement da Silva, a Brazilian immigrant who had just arrived in Portugal. Da Silva wanted to grow the export business to make ports more accessible around the world. Thanks to his initial efforts, today, C. da Silva wines can be found on five continents.
The Dalva ruby port gets its name from combining “da” and “Silva,” a subtle reference to the company’s history. This port is like drinking a jam preserve. It is made from Tinto Cão and Tinta Barroca, two of the most common port grapes. With notes of strawberry, blueberry, and prune, it hits on three different fruit families (red, black, and dried). Pair this one with a blueberry pie or a fruity cheese, like Morbier. At an average of $10.99, this is an incredible value-for-money wine.
Delaforce sounds like a French name, but actually, the founders of this port company were British. They came to Portugal in 1834, and in 1868, George Delaforce founded the family business. Nicholas Delaforce, the current head winemaker in his young 30s, is now the sixth generation to carry on the family’s port winemaking tradition. With their 90 acres (36 hectares) of vines overlooking the Torte River, the Delaforce family staked their claim on some of the most pristine land in the whole Douro Valley.
This port is a more earthy expression of ruby port. Made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, it has notes of cedar, cassis, and vanilla. For an interesting wine tasting experiment, consider buying this deep, earthy port and the bright, fruity C. da Silva port (mentioned above) for two very different expressions of ruby port – and to taste all five of the main port grapes!
Warre’s is owned today by the Symington family, another example of an English owned port business in the Douro Valley. This one dates back to 1670, meaning that in 2020, Warre’s celebrated their 350th birthday as a distinguished port business.
At Warre’s, the traditional method of treading (i.e. stomping on the grapes with bare feet) is still used for a small portion of their production. For the rest, Warre’s developed an automated treading machine with pistons that gently apply pressure to the grapes to extract color, flavor, and tannins. Because their fermentations only last two days, the initial crushing and maceration period is crucial for the final expression of the port.
Warre’s Heritage Ruby Port is robust, fruity, and sweet. On the nose, it has aromas of cassis and maple syrup. On the palate, it is intensely fruity, with flavors of cherry and plum. Because the wines are aged in oak barrels for three years before blending, they have balanced oak and vanilla flavors. It’s ready to drink and does not need to be decanted.
You’ll start to realize pretty soon into your discovery of the port world that it’s a very small world. The ownership of Dow’s has passed hands many times since its origins in 1798, including to the Warre family and the Symington family, who are the current owners of Warre’s. (In fact, keep reading, because port #5 is also owned by this family.)
Dow’s Fine Ruby Port is a blend of traditional port grapes. Similar to the Warre’s Heritage Ruby Port, this one is aged for three years in oak casks. But while these ports are made by the same family and vinified in similar ways, they have different expressions of flavor. Dow’s Fine Ruby Port has strong red fruit flavors, but it has a subtle secondary layer of earthiness, hitting notes of honey, balsamic, and smoke. It is ready to drink; no need to age it further.
If you thought we were done with the Symington family, I’m sorry to disappoint. Actually, I’m not sorry because I’ve saved the best for last. This one is a Reserve Ruby Port, meaning it is of higher quality than a basic ruby port. As its name suggests, this wine is a blend of six grapes coming from two to three different vintages. Before filtering and bottling, it is aged for five to six years in oak casks, giving it time to mature and mellow out the tannins.
With notes of chocolate and plum, this port would pair excellently with a dark chocolate mousse or a mocha cheesecake. Its satin finish is an indicator of its quality and age. Because it has already been aged five to six years, there is no need to age it further. At around $20, this is a steal.
How Port is Made
Port is a fortified wine. This means that before the fermentation of the grape juice is complete, a neutral spirit is added. By “fortifying” the wine with alcohol, the environment becomes toxic to the yeast, causing them to die. This stops the fermentation before yeasts have consumed all of the sugar, which explains why port is sweet. The fortification process also explains why you can open a bottle of port and let it sit in your cabinet or fridge for a few months. The added alcohol acts as a preservative against oxidation.
Where Port Comes From
Port comes from Portugal’s Douro Valley, located in the north of the country just to the east of the city, Porto. The Douro River runs through hills covered in terraced vineyards where wine has been produced for over two thousand years. Not only is this landscape impressive, but parts of it are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Port comes in a variety of styles. It is generally red but can be white, rosé, or even an aged style, called tawny port. Port can be made from over 50 grapes, but the five main grapes in red, rosé, and tawny port are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão.