In the run-up to the holiday season, some enjoy the daily countdown of Advent calendars or streaming Hallmark Holiday movies to prepare for the merriment to come. At this time of year, I like to have a bottle of fortified wine open to enjoy a small glass after dinner, maybe while watching a movie about a woman who finds romance — and possibly so much more — in a magical place called Christmas Town.
This year, I’m thinking it will be a bottle of Ruby Port, the most unassuming and overlooked style of fortified wine made in Portugal. It’s one of a range of ruby styles, representing the fresh and fruity flavour that’s a stepping stone to more serious examples, the most famous of which would be Vintage ports, produced with the best possible grapes from the best growing seasons.
Vintage port isn’t produced every year; each port producer can decide if the wines in their cellar merit the designation. These declarations aren’t as rare as they used to be, with a steady string of high-quality vintage ports produced between 2016 and 2020. It’s a style of fortified wine made to age, with well cellared ones produced between 1960 and 2000 drinking beautifully now. The best examples have the structure and complexity to continue aging for much longer.
Other types of ruby port to note are Reserve Ruby, which show deeper colour, with more structure and flavour intensity than basic examples, and Late Bottled Vintage port, made with grapes grown in the same year and released after extended aging in barrel, usually four to six years prior to release. Like basic ruby ports, these are ready to drink upon release.
The variety of ruby ports, and the range of Tawny style ports that are aged for extended periods in wooden barrels, are sweet and fortified wines made from a blend of different grape varieties grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley, including touriga franca, touriga nacional and tinta roriz (a.k.a. tempranillo). During fermentation, a high-strength grape spirit is added, which kills the yeast and preserves many of the grapes’ natural sugars, making a sweet and strong wine, with alcohol levels usually in the 18- to 20-per cent alcohol by volume range, compared to non-fortified reds that are often between 12.5- to 15- per cent. That alcohol content will help preserve most open bottles for weeks after the cork is pulled.
Sandeman Ruby Port is widely available across Canada and offers a terrific example of the style’s rich and sweet fruit flavours. I also appreciate the pure and fresh fruit flavours of Kopke Fine Ruby Port that’s available in Ontario.
I keep my bottle in the fridge and serve it chilled, knowing the small pour (1.5 – 2 ounces) in my glass will warm up to reveal more of its red fruit character soon enough. It would be equally enjoyable served in a rocks glass, a three-ounce measure poured over ice, with a spring of mint as a garnish, or as a one ounce addition to a glass of Cava or another inexpensive sparkling wine to change its colour and flavour in a most festive manner.
At the dinner table, ruby port is a classic accompaniment for dark chocolate desserts and strong cheeses; blue cheeses are the common match, but fresh goat cheese, brie and camembert or farmhouse cheddar are nice too, and are often less polarizing for people gathered around the table.