Port wine gets a bad wrap! What's worse, is that some people I know have bought "Port" wine when in actuality they weren't buying real port wine at all. So as briefly as I can make it, "Real" Port wine is a "fortified" wine which I will explain in a second, that must come from Portugal! So anything you might see in your grocery store where the label says PORT but is from any country other than Portugal is not actually port wine. Real Port wine will often be labeled "Porto" or "Oporto" and originate from the Douro region of Portugal. But there are exceptions.
So what is it and what makes it so different? When the port wine grapes are being fermented the maker stops the fermentation BEFORE all the sugar from the fruit is converted to alcohol. In order to do this, the wine maker adds a high alcoholic liquid--usually brandy-- which kills the yeast which is gobbling up the sugar producing alcohol. With the yeast killed the residual sugar from the grapes remains yielding a very sweet wine. And because the brandy used to stop fermentation is high in alcohol, port wines are also higher in alcohol than a normal red wine, sometimes up to 22% alcohol.
In an exceptional growing year, a "vintage" is declared and makers may produce "Vintage Port." Vintage Port" is the highest quality of port there is and can run starting in the $25 range on release and just goes north from there. As a port ages, and Vintage ports need many years to reach their peak, can run well over $100 a bottle. And oh what an ethereal treat a good port is. Silky textured, immense, big bold, juicy flavors and while very sweet, the high alcohol, tannins, and acid make it an absolute delight to drink.
But well made ports in the $20 range are delightful as well and "Late Bottled Vintage port" (not to be confused with "Vintage Port") can be seductive, round, velvety, and spectacular in the $20-$35 range. What to serve with Ports? Blue cheese, Stilton, salty big cheeses, dark chocolate, flourless chocolate tarts, and really anything strong and sweet. But there are few things better than Port all by itself. Just make sure it is the real deal and raise a glass!