Versatile white Port wine offers a range of flavors, from fresh and young aperitifs to rich and complex wines aged in wood for up to 40 years. An impressive drink on its own, it’s used in cocktails like the porto tónico (white Port and tonic) and can pair easily with food.
White Port, made in small quantities by about 30 producers, is unique to Portugal’s Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Port has been made since the 1600s. The fortified wine can range from mostly dry to intensely sweet.
The same blend of native white grapes used to make Douro’s dry white wines are also used to create white Port. However, the style accounts for only 10% of all Port production. These grapes grow on high ground above the Douro River valley, where the summer temperatures are cooler.
The grapes used in white Port are:
Malvasia Fina: A subtle, full-bodied variety that brings notes of molasses and nutmeg
Gouveio: Offers apple aromas, with lively acidity and a smooth feel
Viosinho: A low-yield variety that adds structure and intense aromas
Códega do Larinho: An old Portuguese grape with low acidity and tendency toward high alcohol
Moscatel Galego Branco: Offers aromatic lift via orange and apricot characteristics that are essential to white Port
Rabigato: Adds refreshing acidity to the blend
Just like red Ports, white Port is fortified with clear brandy to stop fermentation. It’s either put into wood casks for aging or kept in tanks to be bottled young. Young is easy to drink, while wood aging adds drama. They are typically 17–20% alcohol by volume (abv).
Aged specialty white Ports matured for a generation in oak barrels can rise as high as $300. Once bottled, they generally don’t continue to age, unlike still wines.
Grapes used in white Port:
Códega do Larinho
Moscatel Galego Branco
When you pour white Port, don’t miss the aromas and aftertaste. While the aromatic range is wide, many will display tones of toffee, caramel, orange, lemon, apple and honey. Wood-aged bottlings will offer notes of almond, vanilla and oregano.
Similar to wood-aged tawny Ports, older white Ports are labeled with an age: 10, 20, 30 or over 40 years. The year is not a specific age but denotes characteristics of the final blend.
Some may also be labeled colheita, which means it is from a single vintage. These pours are intensely nutty, with additional prominent flavors of orange zest and toffee. Prices for these rarities are correspondingly high: from $50 to easily more than $100 for 30- or 40-year-old bottles. They are to be treasured and sipped.
When used for cocktails, drier styles mix better. The sweetest white Ports are known as lagrima, or tears, and are best enjoyed on their own or with blue cheese, foie gras, pâtés and sardines. All young white Ports are great with seafood.
White Port ranges in price and can be difficult to find. Here, some of our favorite bottles for sipping straight or mixing with tonic for a traditional taste of Portugal.
White Ports to Seek Out:
Quinta Santa Eufemia NV 30 Anos White Port; $75, 95 points. This dry wine offers bright acidity that’s balanced by the intense concentration from long wood aging. It has an edge of burnt toffee to go with the tangy acidity. It is a very fine, beautifully balanced wine. DB Wine Selection. Editors’ Choice.
C. da Silva 1971 Golden Colheita White Port; $175, 94 points. This intense wine is finely balanced, showing bright acidity as well as the remnants of orange marmalade fruits. It is a very fine, rich wine with great lift as well as richness. Other Brothers Brands.
Kopke 2007 Colheita White Port; $57, 92 points. Rich, jammy and full of sweet orange flavors, this is a rounded wine with a smooth texture. Its acidity is just right to balance this richness, giving a very fine, delicious wine. Wine In-Motion.
Niepoort NV 10 Anos White Port; $40, 91 points. Rich and jammy with deliciously fresh lemon-curd flavors to balance, this is a fruity wine. Its acidity sits well with the ripe toffee and marmalade flavors to give an immediately attractive aftertaste. Martine’s Wines.
J. H. Andresen NV 20 Year Old White Port; $20, 91 points. The wine balances bright acidity with wood spice and ripe fruit tones. It’s a dry, zesty style, with the bite of spice showing strongly. It’s as much a wine for food as for sipping. Aidil Wines/Old World Import.
Quinta do Portal NV Lágrima White Port; $20, 90 points. This smoothly textured wine is ripe, generous and rich. It has delicious honey and lemon flavors that are enhanced by the baked apple flavors. This is a fine wine. M Imports, LLC.
Poças NV 10 Years Old White Port; $28, 90 points. This ripe wine has a fine balance between the rich fruits and bright acidity. With an edge of tangy dryness as well as some sweetness, the wine’s aging is just right. Tri-Vin Imports. Editors’ Choice.
Ramos-Pinto NV Lágrima White Port; $18, 89 points. This smooth ripe wine is poised between rich honey and bright acidity. It is concentrated, touched with spirit and gifted with an attractively rich aftertaste. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA.
Published: January 7, 2020