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New to port? Wine expert Michael Green offers some tasting notes on some top bottles — all produced in Portugal.


Like Champagne, true port only comes from one place in the world: the Douro Valley of Portugal. But beyond that, what makes a port a port? We went to Peter Prager, winemaker at St. Helena, California–based Prager Winery and Port Works (which makes some of the best American port-style wines around), for some answers. “Ports are fortified wines. During the fermentation process, grape spirits are added,” he says. That makes them sweeter — and gives them a fuller body — than regular wine. But what makes a white port white, a tawny a tawny, and a ruby what she is? Well, wood ports reach full maturity in the barrel, and each is named — as you’ve probably guessed — by its color, which grows ever so deeper the longer it stays put in the wood. Typically, ports spend two to seven years in wood casks before being bottled. White ports are lighter, tawny ports tend to be a bit nuttier, and ruby ports are fruitier . And the very best ports? Those are vintage ports, and each is made from a single harvest (wood ports are blended). Once a port is declared vintage, it’s pulled from the barrel after two to three years and then aged in glass bottles. Says Prager: “In the world of port, vintage means reserve. There has to be something unusually good about it.” Wondering what to serve with your port? According to Prager, a cheese plate is your best bet, regardless of the the port color.  Jenna Schnuer

Keeping Up Traditions

1. Pass the port. "What does this mean?," you ask. It means the host pours a glass for the person on the right and then passes the bottle to the person on the left, who in turn pours right and passes left, and so on, until the bottle makes its way back to the host. The custom is an old naval tradition and possibly stems from the fact that ships pass one another on the left, which is known as port to port.

2. If the bottle stops getting passed around the table, say to the person nearest to it, “Do you know the bishop of Norwich ?” When you get a “No,” you then say, “He’s an awfully good fellow, but he never remembers to pass the port!”

3. It’s bad form to recork the bottle; you pass and pour until it’s empty. In fact, some even say that the bottle shouldn’t touch the table again until it’s been emptied. Bottoms up. — Anna Fialho

Try a bottle

Warre’s “Otima” 10 Year Old Tawny, $20 “A lighter style of tawny port and a great aperitif. Raisins meet creme-brule!”

2 Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais 2003, $56 “A delicious single-vineyard port marked by vibrant color, jammy plum and black fruit flavors, a medium body, and firm tannins.”

3 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2001, $23 “A wonderful value; glorious sweet black fruit and licorice aromas.”

4 Osborne Late Bottled Vintage 2000, $19 A “luscious, juicy, mature port” that’s a “slam dunk” with chocolate.

5 Fonseca Vintage Port 2003, $92 “A classic vintage port that will age gracefully for years. Complex, with notes of licorice, blackberry, and spice. Plush mouthfeel and just plain yummy. Worth the splurge!”

6 Graham’s Six Grapes, $23 This ruby port “from one of the great port houses” has “heady aromas of raisin, prune, and dark fruits.”

7 Dow’s Colheita Port, $34 “Aged in wood for over seven years; tasty flavors of almond and caramel.”