Red Port: Or, Rather, Why Isn’t My Port Wine Red?

So, you’ve been given a bottle of Port. A bottle of red Port, to clarify. You pour it into a glass and it’s a faded, red-brown colour. For drinkers of ordinary table wines, this might be alarming. But fear not! Your port has not spoiled! Red ports, made of red grapes, are seldom red in colour. This might seem counterintuitive, but there is a very good reason behind it.

The reason for this colouration lies within the ageing process. Yes, oxidisation is a bad thing: for fruit, for red and white wine. But not for fortified wines! This oxidisation is a desirable characteristic in Port! That’s why Port spends so much time in the barrel: it’s not just to impart the oak flavours! The slow, controlled oxidation allows the wine to develop a beautiful complexity, balancing the fruitiness and sweetness.

Depending on the length of their oak barrel ageing, Ports become brown or even a pale golden hue. But it is a waiting game: a game that is decades (rather than years) long. This colouration is where the name “Tawny” comes from– and of course, that is what we call our Australian-made Port wines.

But not all Ports (or Tawnies) are allowed to oxidise to this extent: some are specifically prevented from such an activity. We’re talking about Ruby Port: the youngest, fruitiest of the Port mix. And, as you would expect with such a name, it is the “reddest” Port. Rather than oak, Ruby is stored in stainless steel casks after fermentation. This prevents both the loss of colour, and the loss of its sweetness. For those who are not accustomed to the taste of Port, it is often suggested as a starting point. 

But Port isn’t the only wine that is intentionally oxidised. Sherry – or Apera as its Australian equivalent is called– is another popular wine. The barrels are intentionally under-filled to facilitate the oxidation that gifts it its pale brown tone. Madeira is another of these special wines, but one with heat added to impart rich, caramel tones.

However, Port is where the red-to-brown oxidation is most notable: most other purposefully oxidised wines are made from white grapes. And Port can be, too! We offer a lovely white Port with a fruity, refreshing taste. So, if you’re disconcerted by the tawny tones of your Port, there’s always an alternative!

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