White Port is something of a rare beast: Not everyone has seen it, and fewer still really understand what it is. Port, the fortified wine from Portugal’s Duoro Valley, is best known as a sweet, highly alcoholic red wine. Where does white Port fit into the equation, and is white Port wine or is it something else entirely – a liqueur or cocktail, perhaps?
Yes, white Port is a wine. Like the better-known red wines of the same region, white Port wine comes in a variety of styles. Look hard enough and you’ll find white Ports that are crisp and dry all the way up those that are sweet, rich and luscious. Fans of Sherry wines may appreciate white Port wine for its versatility and the range of flavours it can offer.
Making white Port wine
The grapes for white Port wine must come from the Duoro region of Portugal, and a great many different varieties are permitted. These grapes are generally not household names internationally. A typical white Port wine could contain such varieties as Arinto, Codega, Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Boal. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of any of these grapes – they clearly don’t have the worldwide recognition of Sauvignon Blanc!
As a fortified wine, the production of white Port includes halting alcoholic fermentation. This fermentation transforms natural grape sugars into alcohol, so when it is interrupted the resulting wine retains some of this sugar and can taste sweet. Interrupting the fermentation is achieved by “fortification”, where the winemaker adds a highly alcoholic neutral grape spirit to the wine. What remains is a wine that is high in both sugar and alcohol. Drier white Port wine is produced by allowing the alcoholic fermentation to go on for longer and thus transform more of the sugar into alcohol.
How should you drink white Port wine?
You can serve and drink white Port in a number of ways, which may go some way to explaining the confusion about what it is!
- A glass of white Port by itself can be delightful. After a meal or just on its own on a winter’s evening. It is one of life’s simpler pleasures.
- White Port can be enjoyed with food, much in the same way as red Port. Sweeter white Port wines are fantastic dessert wines to accompany all sorts of sweet desserts and cheeses. Drier styles have a complexity and nuttiness to rival bone dry Sherry, and are a particularly good match for nuts such as almonds.
- White Port cocktails are very popular, and white Port wine can form the basis for many popular, delicious cocktails, such as:
- White Port Manhattan: Equal parts sweet white Port wine and bourbon, a splash each of Angostura bitters and orange bitters. Stir it up and put a cherry on top, and enjoy! Using a sweet wine here helps to offset the woody spicy dryness of the bourbon.
- White Port and Tonic: Forget the gin. Take one part dry white Port wine to two parts good quality Tonic water, ice and a garnish of lemon or mint to taste.