' Vintage and Fine Wines - Cellaring to Serving

Cellaring to Serving

Port

 Concerning the cellaring of Port wines, it depends on the type of Port. There are two types of Port:

Wood Aged Ports: Reserves, Late Bottle Vintages and Old Tawnies

  • Ports that are aged in contact with oxygen in small seasoned oak barrels or larger seasoned oak vats and that are ready to be consumed when bottled.
  • Secured by the signature T-Cap cork - needs no ageing.
  • Should be served slightly chilled (about 55°F) and with a proper Port glass.

Bottle Aged Ports: Vintage Port, Crusted Port and Traditional Late Bottle Vintage

  • Ports that are bottled when young and are then aged in the cellar in bottles with a driven cork. They mature more slowly than wines in barrel. These wines require extra care during cellaring and serving.


Cellaring

Vintage Port, like all fine wines, prefers to remain undisturbed, lying on its side in a dark and humid place at a stable temperature of between 55°F and 65°F to mature properly. But if you are not blessed with the classic underground stone cellar, do not despair! With a little care, wine can be stored at home, or you can store it in wine storage cellar. 

When assessing your home for a suitable site for storing Vintage Port or any fine wine these should be your considerations:

  • A dark place – light is an enemy
  • The temperature should be constant. Constancy is more important than the actual temperature, though you do want to choose a cool place, 65°F or less.
  • Humidity should not be an issue unless you live in a very dry climate or use dehumidifiers in your home in which case try to store the wine in a place with some natural humidity, to help keep the corks in good condition
  • All fine wines should be stored lying on their side and remain undisturbed until brought out for enjoyment. Traditionally Vintage Port bottles have a splash of white paint which was kept uppermost in storage, so that the crust would develop uniformly in one place.

Life in the bottle

The life cycle of vintage port takes place over the many years of bottle aging. Initially, vintage port is going to be robust: very full flavored and dominated by red and black berry fruit flavors. Approximately around 8-10 years the wine becomes stagnant and the vibrant fresh fruit character begins to subside, but no clear new flavors have arisen yet to take their place. After about 15+ years the wine has matured to a port with flavors of dried fruits, particularly figs, cherry and black cherry, marzipan, pepper and spice may also appear. From this point to about 30 years the wine continues to develop creating more complex tastes and aromas. Some fine ports can age up to 40-50 years.

Learn more about each vintage with our chart.


Decanting

A simple guideline: open and decant vintages less than 40 years old two to three hours before drinking. For most of us, intending to drink our vintage ports after a meal, that means opening the bottle and decanting it before we sit down to dinner. Regarding wines older than 40 years, decant them 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

Opening and Decanting process:

  • Let the bottle stand upright 10 to 15 minutes if it’s less than 40 years old, and up to 30 minutes if it’s older.
  • Pour the wine gently into a decanter and stop pouring when you see sediment moving into the bottle neck.
  • Optionally, you may pour through a funnel lined with a piece of muslin.
  • Relax and enjoy your Vintage Port.

Serving

Vintage Ports are best served slightly below modern room temperature: 60°F to 64°F . Too cool (e.g. straight from the cellar) and the wine will not release all its aromas and flavors, too warm (68°F or more) and it may appear unbalanced or a little spirity on the nose. If you are thinking of all the literary allusions to warming Port by the fire, remember that up until the mid-20th century or later, houses were not centrally heated and could be as cold or colder than modern cellar temperature recommendations.

After being opened, a Vintage Port should ideally be enjoyed within a day or two. Older wines, more than 40 years, tend to be more fragile and are likely to lose their freshness and complexity after a relatively short period of time so they should be enjoyed upon opening.

The pleasure of Port comes in large measure from being able to sense its lovely aromas. The ideal Port glass is tulip shaped and allows you to swirl and air the wine in the glass so that the aromas and color can be appreciated to the full. Additionally, before you serve your Port, be sure your glasses have no lingering odors as they will interfere with the aromas of the wine.

Traditionally, Port is passed clockwise around the table. There are several explanations for this, one of which is that this gesture was seen as a sign of peace to the person sitting on the left because, by pouring a glass of Port with the right hand, the server wouldn’t be able to draw a sword or revolver. A much more practical reason is that the majority of people are right-handed, making it easier to pour the wine with the right hand and pass it with the left. Tradition also has it that the bottle should be kept in circulation and not set down again until it has returned to the host.

Enjoying

Port wine is all about pleasure. Pairing you Port with the right foods will enhance your tasting experience. A young to mature full-bodied and fruit-driven Vintage Port is well paired with dark chocolate or with a strong blue cheese, such as a Stilton. Older, more elegant and nuanced Vintage Ports need no accompaniment and should be savored without the distraction of other foods.

Check out our food and drink recommendations!

Madeira




Madeira is a fortified wine (18-20%) matured in the cask where oxidation and reduction processes happen. Due to the oxidation (constant contact with oxygen inside the cask) Madeira wines will be very stable and have a huge lifespan after opened.

Bottles of Madeira wine should be stored in an upright position, the main reason for this is that the wine can 'outlive' the cork, as madeira wine can last for hundreds of years. Bottles should be kept out of direct sunlight in a location without great variations in temperature.

Madeira does not require decanting, although this is always a good idea for old Vintages. Use a good cork screw, or if the cork seems fragile use a 'butlers thief' to ease the cork out of the bottle. Wine should be served between 60ºF and 64ºF, depending on the age and style of the wine.

Madeira stops ageing once it is bottled. The complex characteristics of madeira wine is the result of ageing in oak casks under special conditions. The age of the wine is equal to the number of years it spent ageing in barrel.
Younger Madeiras along with the 5, 10 and 15 years of age wines are all bottled when ready for drinking and will not improve by further ageing although they will remain in perfect condition for considerable periods if left unopened. Madeira is virtually indestructible and can last even after being opened. Decanting is not necessary, but for old vintages it helps to remove any built-up deposits. A general rule when opening a bottle of Vintage Madeira is one day for every 10 years stored in bottle.