Port: What it is and how to enjoy it

Paige Comrie

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Port. While the name conjures up images of an elderly man in a smoking jacket and bath slippers sitting next to an elegant, roaring fireplace, I’m here to assure you that it has a place in your life, too. There’s more than meets the eye to this after-dinner sipper. While traditionally it’s been reserved as a post-dinner indulgence, to sip by the fire or serve with (or as) dessert, it’s also an incredibly versatile cocktail component.

So what is Port?

Port is traditionally thought of as the luscious red fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro Valley. It’s often categorized as a dessert wine, but actually comes in an interesting range of styles, including a range of dry to tawny sweet, white Port and even rose Port. It’s a whole world of often overlooked possibilities!

White Port is traditionally served chilled on its own, but it’s starting to be recognized as an interesting choice for mixed drinks. White Port is produced similarly to that of red, with a key distinction being a shorter or non-existent maceration period (time spent with the juice in contact with the skin).

In both cases, the alcoholic fermentation in Port is stopped by the introduction of a neutral grape spirit that is about 77% abv, killing off the yeast before it’s had time to complete alcoholic fermentation (before all the grape’s sugars are fully converted into alcohol). Thus, this process produces a fortified wine that is high in sugar and alcohol. White Port is typically somewhere between 16.5-20% abv.

The main takeaway you need to know: Port is incredibly delicious to be sipped on its own, and also makes an incredibly versatile cocktail ingredient. This one bottle can do the job of several other ingredients: It can add sweetness, replace vermouth, add multilayered flavor and temper the alcohol content of high-proof drinks.

Our favorite Port cocktail?

A Cool Cucumber Port & Tonic. A modern twist that combines two classics.

White Port is the ultimate mixer for hot summer days. With an interestingly complex but refreshing taste, there’s a lot of flavor opportunities to play with. For a simple and refreshing mix drink, swap out the gin in a gin and tonic with a white Port, like Fonseca Siroco; the tonic helps bring out the nutty, complex flavors of the fortified wine. Throw in some mint or a slice of lemon, and you’ve got an easy summer drink with nice presentation possibilities. For something more complex, but still simple enough to pull together on a lazy Sunday by the pool, check out the below recipe for a cool cucumber Port & tonic.

Choosing a White Port

My personal choice for white Port is Fonseca Siroco. It’s elegant in style, complex and interesting on its own, versatile in mixed drinks, and perfectly stylish. On its own it displays strong nutty notes, followed by elegant ripe fruit— especially tropical notes. It has a lingering finish with a refreshing crispness. I chose to pair it with cucumber juice to provide something unexpected; the nuttiness adds depth while the cucumber and tropical fruit make this the perfect crisp aperitif or pool-side sip. This recipe is complex enough to be interesting, but simple enough to throw together before heading out to the pool or patio to relax.

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Cool Cucumber Port & Tonic Recipe

  • 1 oz Fonseca Siroco
  • 1 oz Cucumber Juice (or KettleOne Cucumber & Mint Botanicals for added depth)
  • 4 oz Tonic Water
  • Mint Leaves (for garnish)

Directions: Pack glass with ice. Pour in tonic, then pour Port and cucumber juice over. Stir lightly. Add mint leaves to garnish.

Sip & enjoy!

White Port Pairings

Port is great served with blanched salted almonds to play up its nutty characteristic, and is also very food-friendly and shines paired with everything from smoked salmon, sushi, olives, and charcuterie. Here I’ve paired my mix drink with a simple cheese and charcuterie plate that features gouda (I recommend hard cheese with this), almonds, salami, and olive oil crackers.

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Red Port Pairings

Another option is to pair Port with a recipe designed intentionally to match. These overloaded oatmeal chocolate chip cookies play on all the key flavor characteristics in a traditional Tawny Port and maximize your taste experience.

These overloaded oatmeal cookies are inspired by the delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies my mom always makes. We’ve had an incredibly rainy spring here in the Bay, so the moment I sampled Taylor Fladgate’s Tawny Port, I knew I wanted to pair it with something comforting and homey—cue these chewy, rich, and flavorful oatmeal/chocolate chip/dried cherry/toffee overloaded cookies. It’s everything you could want in a dessert. Couple it back with the Port and it’s a match made in heaven.

Every aspect of the cookie brings out something already present in the Tawny Port: vanilla, baking spices, cherry, toffee, dark chocolate… Even the oatmeal is somehow the perfect texture to go with the full mouth-feel of the Tawny Port. The cookies are great on their own. The Port is great on its own. But put them together, and WHOA! It’s an orgasmic combination.

Whether you’re a Port-drinking regular or it’s something completely new to you, you’re going to want to give this one a try!

Port is a must in any wine drinker’s collection. It’s a great way to unwind at the end of the day with something a bit “sturdier” than a regular glass of wine. It has a heavier mouthfeel and is full of rich and complex flavors of ripe berry fruit, delicate nuttiness, and subtle mellow notes of chocolate and butterscotch. Personally, Taylor Fladgate’s Tawny Port is one of my absolute favorites. It’s the perfect crown for a relaxing evening. Pair it with the cookies, and O-M-G.

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Overloaded Oatmeal Cookie Recipe

Ingredients

2 sticks margarine or butter, softened

1 Cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 Cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons milk

2 Teaspoon vanilla

1 3/4 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

2 1/2 Cups Old-Fashioned Oats (uncooked)

2 Cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

1 Cup Toffee Chips

1 Cup Dried Cherries

2 Eggs

Cooking Instructions

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda and salt; mix well. Add oats, chocolate chips, dried cherries, and toffee chips; mix well. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 9 to 10 minutes for a chewy cookie or 12 to 13 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets.

Serving Instructions

Serve warm paired with Taylor Fladgate’s Tawny Port. Have a magical evening.

Are you usually a fan of Port? What’s your favorite pairing? Tell me below!

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Paige Comrie is a Certified American Wine Expert and holds her WSET3 Advanced Certificate in Wine. She's passionate about helping connect consumers with great bottles of wine, and inspiring people to live the "wine lifestyle". This phrase, to her, means elevating the everyday, enjoying the little moments, and taking time to sip and savor everything life has to offer. In addition to wine and food, Paige also writes on the subject of Social Media and Digital Marketing, specifically focusing on the wine industry. Follow her on Instagram @winewithpaige

Napa, CA
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