Defining Dessert Wines: Missouri Port

February 15, 2017

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Port Bottle and GlassPort is commonly referred to as a dessert wine because of its sweet and rich flavors. In fact, you might have noticed many domestic port-style dessert wines aren’t called port. They’re called “dessert wine.” Due to a trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union, American wines no longer use the name port on new wine labels. Yet, some existing U.S. brands were allowed to continue to use the name under a grandfather clause. Port originally got its name from its place of origin in Porto, Portugal.

Port is generally made by fortifying wine with spirits such as brandy during fermentation. Brandy is the most commonly used fortifier when it comes to making port. Adding grape based distilled spirits during the fermentation process stops the yeast from producing alcohol, which leaves behind a large amount of unfermented sugar. The leftover natural sugar from the grapes is what gives port its famous sweetness.

While there are several different styles of port, the two most common styles are ruby (red) and tawny. Ruby ports may be described as a young wine because they spend less time aging before being blended and bottled. Ruby ports are designed to be enjoyed immediately and are generally aged between two and four years. Much of the grape’s natural color and fruity characteristics are retained, thus giving ruby ports its dark red color. Often you’ll find dark berry and chocolate flavors in a ruby port. Tawny ports are aged longer, about seven to ten years. As a tawny port matures, its color fades to a yellowish-brown and nutty flavors develop from oxidation. You can typically find flavors of caramel, hazelnut, clove and fig in a tawny port.

Wineries throughout the state continue to create award-winning port-style dessert wines in a variety of ways. Missouri’s official state grape, Norton, is often used to make port due to its high acidity levels and lower tannins. Port-style dessert wines pair well with strong cheeses, dark chocolate, nuts and dried fruits. Next time you visit a Missouri winery, try tasting a port-style dessert wine!