Port wine traditionally comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal, one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. In the 1700s, wine from this area was fortified with brandy so that it could be shipped to England without spoiling. This fortified wine became known as port. There are several types of port wines, and each goes well with different kinds of foods. There are two distinct types of port wine that are classified by their method of aging: barrel-aged ports and bottle-aged ports. Within these two main categories of port wine, there are many subtle styles of port from single vintage to white port, which is made from white grapes.
Desserts and Ruby Port
One of the most common port wines is the ruby port. White, pink and reserve port are bottle-aged, and can all appear ruby in color after the long aging process. The rich color is achieved because the port is aged in stainless steel to prevent oxidative aging. Ruby ports are most often considered a drink best paired with desserts. One of the best combinations of a ruby port with food is pairing it with chocolate, especially dark chocolate truffles. The soft rich texture, and earthy flavor of chocolate truffles goes well with the deep, fruity, slightly sweet flavor of a ruby port. In addition to chocolate, ruby ports go well with apple crisp, cheesecake and flan. This kind of port can also be used in making jello or when poaching pears.
Tawny Ports and Desserts
Tawny ports are usually more dry than ruby ports. These ports are aged using the oxidative process, so the color is generally lighter than the color of ruby ports. Tawny ports go well with traditional desserts such as almond, apple or cream tarts, or creme brulée. They also go well with slices of fresh melon. When serving this port with chocolate, it can be paired with some exotic flavors such as Fran’s chocolate caramels with sea salt, Vosges white chocolate and dried olive bar or any roasted almond chocolate bar. One very tasty combination is pairing a tawny port with vanilla or coffee ice cream.
Ports With Salads and Side Dishes
Because the flavor is often a little less sweet than a ruby port, tawny ports can be served chilled as an aperitif, and go well with salty appetizers such as olives, pretzels or Marcona almonds. Once a popular drink in England, port with lemon is still sometimes served. This drink goes well with duck salad with a currant dressing. Most ports go exceptionally well with any salad with blue cheese or goat cheese and walnuts. Food aficionado Kendal Greer suggests making a dressing for salads after poaching pears in port, by reducing the poaching liquid and mixing it with oil, salt and white pepper.
Cheeses and Ports
Port, like any wine, pairs well with cheese. Tawny port goes exceptionally well with Stilton, the king of English cheeses. This type of port also goes well with white cheddar and jalapenos, Manchego cheese and dried cherries or any hard sheep’s milk cheese with apricots. Ruby ports tend to lend themselves well to mature cheddar cheeses served alone or with dates. In general, the softer cheeses such as brie or Camembert do not pair well with port, as they are too mild and sweet. Pairing port with foods has become somewhat of an art form, but generally speaking, one cannot go wrong pairing any port with either desserts or strong hard cheeses.
References and ResourcesWine Lovers' Page; Wine Seminar: A Quick Overview of Port Wine; Jason Brandt Lewis; 1997
"Bartender Magazine"; Port Wine; Joseph DeLissio; 2003
"Matching Food & Wine"; Christmas Pairings with Port, Sherry and Madeira; Fiona Beckett; December 2009