Port has taken its fair share of punishment. It’s been forgone, forgotten — pushed unceremoniously to the back of the drinks cabinet. For years, it’s been given its just deserts. But those desserts are part of the problem. Thanks to a lasting association with sweet treats and final courses, this once-unshakeable fortified wine has, of late at least, lost its resolve.
Fortunately, heritage port houses are hitting back. From ruby to rosé expressions, the established players are innovating ‘vinho do Porto’ into the 21st century. And, thanks to the seven innovations below, the maligned fortified wine is looking stronger than ever. So take note gentlemen, because the revolution will be fortified — and these are the best ways to get involved…
For the traditionalists, Graham’s Six Grapes Port
Why is it special? The 1820-founded port house has given us ‘Six Grapes’, a young port with the brambly character of a more vintage style. It’s a slick take — and one that’s not solely made to sip alongside your stilton.
What notes does it contain? In terms of aromas, expect the rich, perfumed notes of ripe cherries and plums. On the palate, there’s a more complex feel, with a chewier texture, solid structure and long, lingering finish.
How should you enjoy it? It may be the perfect, vintage-tinged port to enjoy with a creamy, piquant blue cheese — but we’d forgo the Roquefort and instead plump for a deep, velvety slab of high-cocoa dark chocolate.
Graham’s Six Grapes Port
For the modern men, Cockburn’s Ruby Soho Port
Why is it special? Cockburn’s has also pepped up its port; ‘Ruby Soho’ is a piquant, spicy spin produced by reappropriating grapes destined for bigger-ticket bottles — and brims with character plucked from the company’s past.
What does it taste like? Bright aromas of rich blackberries, mashed into sweet toffee and tossed to a handful of red berries. But then, under all of those natural sugars? A sharp, shocking hit of punchy, peppery spice.
How should you enjoy it? Mix it. Rather than sitting in your leather-studded armchair, swirling a neat measure of deep red port, you should throw this together with soda water, citrus juice, sugar syrup to create a ‘Port and Lemon’.
Cockburn’s Ruby Soho Port
For the uninitiated, Martins de Sá Tawny Port
Why is it special? Martin de Sá describes its two types of modern fortified wine as ‘port for a new generation’. The white is good, but the tawny is better; a dark amber wine created using ‘Touriga Franca’ or ‘Tinta Roriz’ grapes.
What does it taste like? The unexpected. Think hazelnuts, dried fruits and jams. There are also notes of wood in there; an oaky, lingering taste that offers a solid base for further fruitier flavours such as plums and red fruits.
How should you enjoy it? Vegan friendly, this is a port to enjoy with the modern savoury snacks, such as alternative cheeses, exotic dried fruits, nuts and olives. Or, for those with a sweet tooth, crème brûlée or pastéis de nata.
Martins de Sá Tawny Port
For the new-wavers, Croft Pink Port
Why is it special? Croft, one of the oldest port houses in Portugal’s Douro Valley, has created a whole new class of wine with ‘Pink’ port — a considerably lighter, sprightlier rosé style. It’s more than an innovation; it’s a revelation.
What does it taste like? Raspberry coulis, honey and cherries. Sugar, spice — and almost anything else nice your mind can conjure up. That means boundless berries, sweet citrus and honeysuckle — with a very slight tempering touch of savoury herbs.
How should you enjoy it? Though it may make a sensational, stylish base for a new breed of cocktails, we’d keep things simple — pouring this port either over ice or swirled through tonic with a sprig of rosemary.
Croft Pink Port
For the cocktail shakers, Noval Black Port
Why is it special? There’s something innately intense about this ‘Black Port’ from Noval. It looks like the sort of thing a supervillain would have on his shelf; cool, sleek and slightly sinister. But it’s more approachable than it looks.
What does it taste like? It’s a very port-y port — insomuch as it tastes like concentrated, macerated grapes. There’s also juicy red fruit in that bold black bottle, as well as a slight bite of black pepper. Seductive, but simple.
How should you enjoy it? Given its relatively restrained flavour profile, this port makes for an incredible cocktail base. Our favourite? Jim Meehan’s ‘Third Wheel’ — a blend of cold tea, port, mint and bourbon.
Noval Black Port
For whisky-lovers: The Port of Leith Distillery Reserve Tawny Port
Why is it special? Because it’s from Scotland — technically. The port may originally hail, as all true port does, from Portugal, but this intricately-patterned bottle borrows its barrel-based heritage from Edinburgh.
What does it taste like? Thanks to its oxidisation in large oak vessels, there’s a russet, slightly woody taste to this one – that develops on the palate, side-stepping the rich fruit — to offer up a prevailing nutty flavour.
How should you enjoy it? In a Negroni. (Bear with us). Mix 35ml of the port with 20ml of good gin and 20ml of Campari. Stir over over and garnish with a lemon slice. It’s a fun, unexpected — and very, very tasty spin on the traditional cocktail.
The Port of Leith Distillery Reserve Tawny Port
For the old school: Graham’s 2015 Late Bottled Vintage
Why is it special? Because of its age. Most of the bottles on this list are fairly young — hip new expressions of a stereotypically stuffy old wine. This bottle keeps the pomp and ceremony in tact, and embraces its heritage proudly.
What does it taste like? Anything and everything rich you can think of. There are flavours of liquorice in there, as well as bold red roses. Beyond that, tart, strong blackberries, herbal mint and even overripe stone fruits.
How should you enjoy it? We’ll relent on our anti-cheese stance for this one — as nothing brings out those piquant flavours as well as particularly mature cheese. Try a cheddar crunch, or a Swiss Gruyère.
Graham’s 2015 Late Bottled Vintage