Does Port Need to Breathe? The Complete Guide
In the world of sweet red wines, Port is a name that is well known by everyone. This dessert wine is a flavor many enjoy, whether it’s connoisseurs or those who drink a glass or two once in a while. When it comes to wine, you can drink it any way you like, but there are a few things that professionals would recommend doing so you get the most out of every bottle. So does Port need to breathe?
The answer is that it depends on the type and vintage of port you are drinking. Vintage ports can require strong aeration (around an hour), especially if they are young wines. These vintage ports can be very tannic, so you will want to get rid of this flavor before you start drinking. Late bottled and aged tawny port wines do not require aeration since they are matured in oak vats and casks that allow their flavors to smoothen over time.
Now let’s get into more details, shall we?
How and Where Is Port Made?
First, let’s see where this delicious wine is made and just how the flavor is achieved. Port is made from grapes that are grown in the Douro region. Later, a neutral grape spirit called aguardiente is added to the wine to stop fermentation, which boosts the alcohol content and leaves behind sugar for the sweetness.
The fortification spirit is also called brandy, but it isn’t very similar to those available in stores. Then, the wine is stored in a barrel and aged in a wine cellar or lodge.
The wine got its name, “port,” in the latter part of the 17th century from the city of Porto near Douro River, which is a seaport location where most of the wine is produced. The Douro Valley has its own microclimate that is perfect for the cultivation of port wine grapes. This valley extends from the village of Barqueiros eastward to the Spanish border.
The area is divided into three regions, the Baixo (lower) Corgo, the Cima (higher) Corgo, and the Douro Superior.
The Baixo Corgo is downstream from the Corgo river, while the Cima Corgo is located upstream. Grapes grown in the Baixo region are usually used to produce inexpensive port wines since it is the wettest port production zone.
The Cima region grapes are considered of higher quality and are used to bottle Vintage, Reserve, aged, and Late Bottled Ports. The Douro Superior region is the least cultivated due to the difficulty of getting past the rapids of the river.
A Brief History of Port Wine
Before we start answering the questions “does Port need to breathe and how”, let’s get into some history about the culture of winemaking in Porto.
Port wine has been around for a long time, and the Duoro area is the third oldest protected wine region in the world.
In 1756, when the Marquis of Pombal was ruling, the Douro Wine Company was founded to maintain the quality of the wine along with fair pricing. They were also in charge of controlling which port wine was for exporting and which was for internal trade.
Port rose to its popularity in England following the Methuen Treaty of 1703, and that is when merchants were allowed to import it at a low duty. This is because there was a war with France, and the English were deprived of French wine.
Before that, in 1678, a Liverpool merchant sent two representatives to Viana do Castelo to study the culture. While they were vacationing in the Douro region, the two men visited the Abbot of Lamego, who served them a “very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth” wine,” which included the addition of a distilled spirit. The two men were so pleased that they bought the entire lot and sent it home.
The British were and still are very involved in the port trade. You can notice this yourself from the names of famous Port brands and shippers such: Broadbent, Campbell, and Graham, being amongst the best known. This British involvement became so strong that they created a trade association that became a gentlemen’s club called the British Factory House.
Now you may still be wondering, does Port need to breathe? We know the history and regions of the wine culture, so let’s get to the drinking.
Why Do We Let the Wine Breathe?
Exposing your wine to air is the process of aerating it or letting it breathe. The oxygen and wine interacting leads to two chemical processes called evaporation and oxidation. These changes cause differences in smell and flavor.
The evaporation part is a transition from liquid to vapor. Have you ever opened your bottle of wine, only to have it smell like medicine or rubbing alcohol? This is due to the ethanol in the wine. Once you let the wine breathe, this odor will be dispersed and discarded.
With most wines that have a softer flavor, aerating out the ethanol will help you taste the actual wine and not just the alcohol. Sulfites which are also in the wine will disperse along with the ethanol when you aerate it.
These chemicals are added to protect the wine against microbes, but they usually smell like rotten eggs, so letting the wine breathe will remove this smell.
The second reaction involved in aerating wine is oxidation, and it also includes molecules in the wine and oxygen from the air. Compounds in the wine are oxidized, such as anthocyanins, catechins, epicatechins, and other phenolic substances.
Oxidation will add to the fruity or nutty taste of certain wines, but oxidizing wine too much will ruin the taste. This is why you must be careful not to leave your wine out too long.
Does Port Need to Breathe?
As we have already mentioned, aerating isn’t a must for all types of wines. So, does Port need to breathe? As we mentioned above, the answer really depends on what kind of Port you are drinking. Usually, a few hours of aeration won’t do any damage, even if it doesn’t add to the flavor.
But it usually does! Vintage ports should be aerated for a few hours, especially if they are young. Late bottled and aged tawny port wines do not require aeration since they are matured in oak vats and casks. Being processes in oak vats and casks, they develop into their full flavors, so aerating will not add anything to the taste.
Now that you have the answer to the question, “does Port need to breathe?” we hope it will be easier to plan your dinner parties and gatherings.
How to Serve Port Wine
Of course, before drinking, you must first serve Port wine properly. In fact, improper storage or serving may actually affect the flavor of the wine. So before you start, have your clean decanter ready. If you do not own a decanter, you may also use a clean wine bottle or even a jug.
Holding the Port bottle vertical, dispose of the seal, and clean the top of the bottle. Carefully ease out the cork. You may also use a traditional waiters’ friend bottler opener instead of the modern openers. These traditional ones allow you to have more control, especially with more delicate corks in older vintage wines.
Steadily pour out the Vintage Port into your decanter. If you see a splash of white paint on the bottle, this will tell you how it was cellared. The mark must be uppermost. Using a small funnel along with a strainer may also be helpful. If the Port has produced a heavy deposit, it may benefit from filtering with some muslin in a funnel.
Aerating a single glass of port is simple – pour it into the glass, and taste it at first. If the flavor is harsher than you desire, swirl the glass and taste once more. Continue this action until the flavor is smooth, or however, you like it. Make sure to taste after each swirl to avoid overdoing aeration.
How Long Can I Keep An Open Bottle of Port Wine?
Okay, now your wine is open and aerated, but there is still some left at the bottom of the bottle. You may be wondering whether it will be any good if you keep it. Well, the answer also depends on what type of wine you were drinking.
Young Vintage Ports, which are less than five years old, usually last 4-5 days once opened. But, Ports that are more than 15 years old cannot be left open for more than 2-3 days. They won’t spoil if you leave them longer, but they will lose their aromatic character and will seem more subdued. Really old wine that is more than 25-30 years old is best within 24-48 hours.
Unfiltered LBV Ports, if stored at approximately 8 °C to 10°C, can last for two to three weeks. If they are filtered LBV Ports, these can last around 10 to 12 days after being opened, without any loss of quality.
Aged Tawny Port (10 – 40 years old)
These amazing wines can last two months after being opened without any noticeable differences if they are kept in a cool dark place. If they are being stored at normal room temperature, three-four weeks is a good rule of thumb.
Ruby & Tawny Ports
Ruby and basic Tawny Ports will typically last 4-6 weeks after being opened without any signs of change. Though ideally, you would finish a Ruby Port within one month of opening – and a Tawny Port within two months after being opened.
A Toast Goodbye
Well, there you have it, you know all there is to know about Port wines. Hopefully, you enjoyed learning about the history of winemaking in Porto, the process of aerating wine, and how long it can last after opening!
So, go treat yourself to some high-quality Port wine, and enjoy your day!
To living a full-bodied life,