Porto Ho – Part 4: White Port

My final bit of writing about port styles for the time being is dedicated to what I consider to be the most underappreciated style in the canon – white port. Produced in the same way to the various other ports in previous posts, but using a base made with white grapes rather than the red that the Douro is most well known for. A variety of different styles of white port are made, mirroring the red varieties, but not much beyond young wine intended to be drunk cold or in mixed drinks makes its way outside of Portugal. Luckily the combined help of Vinologia, and the Ferreira and Sandemans port lodges helped me get a vaguely decent range of information and samples.

Tram bridge

I’ll leave most of my tasting notes on the young whites until the next post(s), when I’ll comment on the port lodge tours, but in short the ones I tried at Ferreira and Sandeman’s were medium sweet with a bit of citrus and honey. They weren’t really pushed by the lodges (although both tastings involved one as half of the pair of ports we were invited to try) and only really Ferreira (the more Portugese of the two) really gave them much time without me pushing for information.

On top of the ones I had on the tours I did manage to sneak one in at Vinologia, although the waiter did seem rather bemused that I’d ask for a young white port when we’d been mainly drinking tawnies all week – I had the Dalva Dry White Port, served cold from the fridge. I can’t find much about Dalva other than it is now, after a number of purchases and takeovers, part of The Symington Group, along with Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Warre’s and Dow’s – four of the big lodges. On the nose it had caraway, unripe peach, peach stones and candy floss, and to taste it was lightly sweet with sour grapes and a biscuity finish. Not the most complex of wines, but nice and refreshing. However, once you leave these ruby equivalents behind things get quite interesting.

Next up we have Lágrima, ‘Tears’. This is a very sweet style which our tour guide at Ferreira told us was named for the teary legs that run down the side of the glass after a quick shake of the sticky liquid. However, a bit more research on the internet suggests that there’s more to it than that, with the tears in question being the first juice of the grape pressing, released by just the weight of grapes in the press pressing down on those below and Lágrima being made from this free run juice. A quick look at the 1986 port regulations (even if google translate does a bit of a mangling) suggests that Lágrima is merely a sweetness category, sitting at the top of the sugary side of things along with Very Sweet (multo doce). Primed by the Ferreira tour to look for some Lágrima we were yet again looked after by the folks at Vinologia who passed a glass around our table so that we could have a taste. Unfortunately I didn’t note which wine it was, but it was served very cold and sat quite syrupy in the glass with little smell. To taste it was thick and syrupy with a surprisingly delicate taste – floral in a similar manner to some light dessert wines. It was rather pleasant and at least one member of our party picked up a bottle as we passed through the airport. It’s a very Portugese style of port and not one that finds its way out of the country very often, so I’ll probably have to wait until my next visit to investigate further.

The other section of the white port spectrum that I tasted seems to be all classed under the banner of “Old White Port”. From their colour and a couple of conversations with people in Porto and since these are generally aged in the same manner as Tawnies and Colheitas, in oak casks. With everyone else sticking to the red wines I thought I’d try and help round out the side with some white port drinking and after my first glass I was happy to continue. Very much more towards the style of Tawny ports than the white ports we generally see in the UK, these were rich, sweet and complex but without so much of the red fruit that I often found a bit overpowering in the red ports.

My first glass of port after arriving (apart from a welcoming glass of ruby at our hotel’s reception) was in, as you’d expect, in Vinologia on our first night on a quick recce before bed – Messias Old Dry White Port. Messias are a fairly young company, starting in 1926, and produce a variety of wines with port being only a small part. From a quick look around their website I’m assuming that the wine for their white port comes at least in part from their Quinta do Cachão, whose single quinta 1990 LBV I also tried. This was my introduction to older white ports, coming in at about 15 years old, and it was definitely a good start. It was a dark bronze, more a whisky colour than what I expected from port, and had a nose of light raisins, floral syrup and a slight mustiness backed up with some rich PX sweetness. To taste there were sultanas, sweet honey and lightly toasted bread. Much less in the way of jam than red ports and with some hints of sweet but old sherry.

IMG_0143On my next trip back to Vinologia I plumped for an old white port flight to start and ended up with three of the finest white ports available. I started with the Quinta das Lamelas 40+ Old White Port. Called 40+, as there is no older category, this was a good dark brown (at this age the Tawnies start to lighten and go brown and the whites are dark and brown – it was sometimes hard telling them apart from appearance alone) and had a nose of rich PX and Vicks vaporub. To taste there was lots of rich fruit as well as black liquorice, celery, cloves, sticky cherries and pine. A totally different beast to the younger ports.

Next in the flight was Dalva Golden White Port 63, a white 1963 colheita. This wine was bottled in 2009 at 46 years old and was, as the name suggests, a good golden colour. On the nose it had light honey, sweet caramel and some menthol. To taste there was a distinct woodiness that I’d not tasted in a port before, raisins, cranberries and a touch of caraway, with a bitter wood finish.

The last of my three was Dalva Golden White Port 52, a 1952 colheita also bottled in 2009 for a total of 57 years in the barrel and announced by our waiter as ‘the best thing we have’. On the nose this had a very floral burst of alcohol, perhaps violets, followed by fake strawberry and cherry, and light menthol. It was a syrupy in the mouth and had cloves, cinnamon toast and lemon lockets to taste, with a finish of toasted bread. It was quite impressive and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get a bottle to bring back to the UK.

Old white ports

I’m fairly sure I tried a flight of the Quinta Santa Eufémia ports, running from 10 years old to 40+ as well, but I can’t find any notes and it was 3 months ago now that I visited – the main thing I remember was that they convinced tawny lover Bob that there was a chance that white port might be vaguely drinkable (an impressive leap for a white wine hater such as him).

So, despite there being less of them to try the white ports wowed me a bit more than the tawnies, although to be fair we did try some of the finest examples available. The big problem with old white port is that you can’t really get it outside of Portugal – I mentioned that I’d be interested in obtaining some to Rob Whitehead at Berry Brothers & Rudd and he commiserated with me that I’d be lucky to find many, even through his rather impressive workplace. Ho hum, I suppose that means I’ll have to back to Porto soon…

UPDATE: It seems you can get white port in the UK, although not quite as much you can find in Porto. The lovely folks at Portugalia Wines, who happen to be based around the corner from my office, have some Quinta Sta Eufemia port and thanks to them I have a bottle of the 20 year old sitting on the table at home.