Boozehound 101: An introduction to port

Port Wine
While there are many different styles of port, ruby and tawny are the most common. — photo by Chris Becker

“Have you saved any room for dessert tonight?”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked the over the years, only to regretfully decline, having stuffed my face with delicious food. But in many restaurants, there’s a slightly less filling beverage option that is often overlooked post-dinner (and no, I’m not talking about Bailey’s in your coffee; though that is delicious, too). I’m talking about dessert wines — more specifically port.

Hailing from Portugal, port is a fortified wine that comes in a number of varieties, and is perfect for cooler weather. Richer in taste and heavier in body than wine, a grape distillate is combined with wine before it is aged in barrels. Port is meant to be sipped in small aperitif glasses (if you’re sipping with someone special in front of a roaring fire, that’s a nice bonus), and with an ABV in the 20-25 percent range, you’re getting your money’s worth as well.

Port gets its name from Porto, a city in Portugal located at the mouth of the Douro River, a region that grows over 100 varieties of grapes used in the production of port. While the port industry originated in the 17th century, it gained popularity outside of Portugal in the early 1700s when the English discovered it was a delicious alternative to the French wine they were deprived of due to war between the two nations. The English influence and involvement in port trade stems from this time and continues to this day.

Alright, so now that I have you interested in port — what are the main varieties, what should you eat with port and where can you get your hands on some in the Iowa City area?


Tawny port is one of the main port categories and can be found at most liquor stores. Aging in oak barrels give tawnies an earthy, nutty flavor and deep brown color. Tawny ports tend to be lighter-bodied than other styles, but just as drinkable. Good beginner bottles of tawny port are available at your local liquor stores:

  • Cockburns Fine Tawny ($12.99)
  • Whisker Blake Tawny ($13.99)


Ruby ports are the most extensively produced type of port and are aged for a shorter duration than other styles of port. They are generally fruity in flavor and brighter red in color. If you are new to port, check out:

  • Fonseca Bin 27 ($18.99)
  • Founder’s Reserve ($18.99)

Food Pairings

There’s a reason why port is paired with desserts: It is delicious with sweets and cheese. Ruby ports tend to pair well with chocolate (especially dark chocolate), sharp cheddars and even Gorgonzola. Tawny Ports go well with crème brulée, dried fruits and roasted nuts like almonds.

Out On The Town

Around town, a glass of port will cost about $6. Brix, Clinton Street Social Club, Devotay, Motley Cow and One Twenty Six all offer tawnies and/or rubies.

If you’re looking to buy, Winestyles in Coralville (920 E 2nd Ave #115) carries about a half a dozen port varieties, including a 21-year-old Vintage Tawny Port and a White Port. And, if you’re looking to taste before you buy, on Nov. 10 Devotay is hosting class on ports.

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