Though people tend to be most familiar with Ruby Port, it’s not the only kind out of Port wine there. There are also Tawny Ports (which are aged), Rosé Ports, and White Ports, all of which offer unique drinking experiences. Some are sweet, some are off-dry, and they’re all excellent for pairing with food or using in recipes that call for wine. Ruby and Tawny ports are the most common styles, but today we’re talking all about their less common cousin: White Port. We explore how it’s made and how best to serve it, including food pairings and a selection of delicious White Port cocktails.
What is White Port?
Generally speaking, Ports are fortified wines produced in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Of course similar fortified wines are produced elsewhere around the world, but the EU PDO states only those from Portugal may carry the label port or Porto. In the US, Oporto, Porto, or Vinho do Porto indicate the port wine is from Portugal, while everything else is just plain old port.
White Ports are made from a blend of local white grape varieties, including Códega, Gouveio, Malvasia, Rabigato, and Viosinho. The final product is fermented and aged for different lengths of time depending on the style. When it’s time, winemakers stop fermentation by fortifying with aguardente to control the sweetness. This is a neutral grape spirit that boosts both the sugar and alcohol levels. The final alcohol content is usually close to 19-20% ABV.
White Ports can be sweet, dry, or somewhere in between:
- Leve Seco. This light, dry White Porto typically has lower alcohol content levels, about 16%. They have wonderful complexity, however, thanks to oak-aging for 5-10 years. During that time, their residual sugar is lost, hence the dryness.
- White Porto. This medium sweet white port is also aged, but not quite as long. It’s aged in wood for at least 3 years. The final result is sweeter than Leve Seco, thanks to all the residual sugar, and is also has more color and definition.
- Lágrima. This is the sweetest White Port and it’s the delight of all dessert wine aficionados who manage that vacation to Portugal.
What Does White Port Taste Like?
Dry white ports are wonderfully light and refreshing, with a touch of sweetness. They taste of citrus peel, apricots, and apples, often with a nutty, roasty finish.
Sweet White Ports are richer, often with hints of honey, caramel, and hazelnut.
How to Serve White Port
A bottle of White Port will store well for a few years if left unopened. Once you open the bottle, you should store it in your refrigerator and consume it within a month.
White Port is usually served as an apéritif. Like other white wines, it should be served chilled, between 42-50°F (6-10°C). A port glass or a white wine glass will help hold the temperature nicely, though White Port is also makes a fine cocktail served over ice.
White Port Cocktails
Port and Tonic
The Port and Tonic is a twist on a gin and tonic, and is a marvelously refreshing way to enjoy White Port. It has less alcohol than gin, as well, so it’s the perfect drink for sipping on a long hot summer afternoon.
- 50 ml dry White Port (they recommend Churchill’s Dry White Port)
- 100 ml tonic water (they recommend Fevertree)
- Orange peel, for garnish
- Sprig of mint, for garnish
To make a Port and Tonic:
- Combine the port with the tonic water into a glass with ice cubes.
- Stir well and garnish with the orange peel and mint.
White Port Manhattan
This light, smooth variation of a Manhattan is a delight. It doesn’t have that many components, but the final cocktail has remarkable depth and balance. It’s always a crowd-pleaser.
- 1.5 oz dry White Port
- 1.5 oz bourbon
- Dash of Angostura bitters
- Dash of orange bitters
To prepare this cocktail:
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
- Stir for at least 30 seconds to make sure it’s completely chilled, then strain it into a cocktail glass.
- A garnish of brandied cherries is optional, but highly recommended.
Authentic White Sangria
Nothing says summer like sangria. For a fantastic sangria recipe off the beaten path, try this authentic White Sangria from Portugal. This recipe calls for an oak-aged, sweet White Port.
- 275 ml of White Port (they suggest Port Cabral Branco Fino)
- 375 ml of lemon/lime soda (like Sprite or 7-up)
- 2-3 tsp brown sugar
- 150 ml fresh lemon juice
- Fruits, such as pears, apples, lemons, pineapples, or melons
- Mint leaves
To make Authentic White Sangria:
- Combine the port, soda, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a pitcher and stir.
- Fill the pitcher with ice cubes and add the chopped fruits.
- Garnish with mint leaves and additional fruit, if desired.
Then imagine that it’s a sunny day and you’re sitting on your balcony in Lisbon, and this is your view:
For more inspiration, check out our post on white wine cocktails. In all things wine and cocktails, there’s always room for experimentation.
Food Pairings and Recipes
If you’d rather have White Port with your meal instead of as an apéritif, you’re in luck. It pairs beautifully with food, as well. Its flavor profile makes it ideal to enjoy with a cheese board, particularly with hard cheeses that have nutty undertones.
White Port also pairs well with stone fruits, like peaches and apricots, salted almonds, and sushi. Sweeter vintages go well with light desserts, like sponge cakes and merengues, especially if also served with fresh fruits.
You can also cook with white port much the same way you would a white wine. Dry white ports can be added to rich seafood dishes, such as creamy clam chowder or this roasted sea bass. It adds an interesting depth and nutty flavor to sauces, as well. Sweeter White Ports can be used in desserts that call for white wine.
Please see our food and wine guide for more great pairing ideas. Cheers!