Know your Port

With the onset of winter and various festive celebrations looming, now's the time most wine lovers turn their attention to Port. But it's not just a wine for Christmas, says Decanter's expert Richard Mayson, who reviews the main styles and latest trends

Port can be enjoyed in multiple ways depending on the character of the wine.

There is a pyramid of different styles of Port extending from venerable vintage to vibrant ruby. It is often considered a macho wine, perhaps ever since essayist Samuel Johnson expressed the opinion ‘Claret for boys, Port for men’.

But aged tawnies, colheitas and mature vintage Ports can be supremely elegant and refined. These wines have never been more in demand.

This style guide surveys the latest trends and will point you to the right Port for any occasion.

View all of Decanter’s Port tasting notes

Crusted Port

So-called because of the deposit that the wine throws in bottle, crusted Ports are a blend of wines from two or three harvests aged in large oak vats for up two years and bottled, like a vintage Port, without any fining or filtration. The only significant date on the label is the year of bottling. Most crusted Ports are ready to drink with five or six years of bottle age and will last for another decade. The British houses make a speciality of this style. Excellent value: crusted is poor man’s vintage Port!


Meaning ‘harvest’ in Portuguese, colheita is a wine from a single year, aged in wood for a minimum of seven years before bottling, by which time the wine begins to take on the characteristics of a tawny. Most colheitas are aged for much longer and, with careful management, may be bottled after 50 or 100 years. Two dates appear on the label: the year of harvest and the year of bottling. The latter is significant as the wine won’t generally improve in bottle (although after prolonged ageing in wood it won’t deteriorate quickly either). Once the preserve of a select group of so called ‘Portuguese shippers’ (Barros, Buremster Cálem, Kopke, Krohn) colheitas have been taken up enthusiastically by the British shippers in recent years, sometimes bottled under the name ‘single harvest’. Serve cellar-cool, like a tawny.

Simpler styles


A blend of premium-quality wines often aged for slightly longer than a basic ruby before bottling: giving a rich, satisfying Port. A reserve tawny is a blended wine that has spent about seven years in wood and is often excellent value compared to wines bottled with an indication of age.


Named after its youthful colour, a ruby Port will be a blend of wines from more than one year, aged in bulk for up to three years and bottled young to capture its strong, fiery personality.


Made from white grapes. Most are bottled young but some whites are capable of wood age and may now be bottled with the same age indications as tawny Ports or as a colheita.


Pioneered by Croft and adopted, not without controversy, by most shippers. Made by cooling fermenting grape must, which has had minimal skin contact. Serve over ice or use as a mixer.

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