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The fragrant, floral and lighter style of white port can be easy to overlook, but the refreshing nature of the Portonic (or Porto Tonico), a summery cocktail that mixes white port and tonic water, is stimulating interest in this offbeat, fortified wine.
Representing an estimated 10 per cent of Portugal’s Douro Valley’s annual port production, white port has long been overshadowed by the dramatic styles of tawny and ruby red ports, which have captivated the senses of wine lovers for centuries. The region’s vineyards are distinguished as being one of the world’s oldest demarcated appellations, dating back to 1756.
Produced from white grapes, including the varieties malvasia fina, moscatel and rabigato, white port is made in the same way as the red styles. The fermenting wine is fortified with brandy to kill the yeast and leave residual sugars in the wine, which give sweetness to the final product. Many white ports are made to be less sweet than red examples, so the brandy is added later in the fermentation process compared to tawny or ruby port production.
Most white ports hover between 17 per cent and 20 per cent alcohol by volume, with the lighter styles offering a range of citrus (especially zest and pith notes), apple and nutty aromas and flavours. Versions aged for longer periods in barrel develop richer caramel, honey and nutty notes. Producers of high-quality white port may release 10-, 20-, 30-, or 40-year-old white port.
Canadian shops typically stock Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate and Ramos Pinto, which are often priced around $20 per 750 mL. Croft, Niepoort and Kopke can be found in specialty shops.
White port is made to be served chilled and neat as an aperitif. As mentioned, bartenders and mixologists have been finding clever uses for it, using it in place of vermouth for a martini or negroni, as well as perfecting their own takes on a Portonic.
The standard recipe calls for a highball or balloon shaped wine glass filled with ice. Add 50 mL white port, top with 100 mL of tonic water and garnish with a slice of lemon or orange. If you have basil, mint, thyme or rosemary available, those flavours can add interest. In Porto, I recall seeing versions served with a stick of cinnamon. Once opened, a bottle of white port should keep for two weeks in the fridge.