No time like winter for late-bottled vintage port

I woke up this overcast morning to a ripping wind. Winter is upon us and that means port. There are different styles of port including wood-aged tawny, vintage, late-bottled vintage and young ruby ports, among others. Taking into account that most of you are going to have above-average credit card bills in a few weeks, I’m going to focus on the increasingly popular late-bottled vintage ports that offer a bit of vintage port character but at a less dear price tag.

Unlike vintage ports that are only made in the very best vintages (usually no more than three times in a decade), late-bottled vintage ports, aka LBVs, can be made in any vintage, and in the years when vintage ports are not made, the fruit that is often reserved for vintage bottlings may very well make its way into the producer’s LBV. Vintage ports are usually aged in wood for two years and bottle for two years before release. LBVs are aged in wood for two to four years, speeding up the aging process to a certain degree, and then spend between two and five years in bottle. The result is a port that may not have as much depth, multifarious characteristics or the ability to age as a vintage but has far more complexity than a young ruby port. There are two styles, unfiltered or bottle aged (formerly known as traditional) and filtered. The advantage of the former is that it tends to age better while the biggest pro of the latter is that it usually does not need to be decanted.

Late-bottled vintage ports mimic a producer’s style, so if you know that you are a Graham’s fan or like Dow’s vintage ports, you should look for the LBV’s that these houses made. In order from driest to sweetest (but keep in mind, all are sweet) here are three of my favorites.

» Gould Campbell Late Bottle Vintage, 2000: This 210-year-old port house is a sleeper among the trophies in the Symington Port and Madeira empire. Rich yet with a firm backbone of acidity, this LBV has layers of chocolate, cherry, raspberries, walnuts and chocolate.

Suggested retail: $19.99

» Warres Late Bottle Vintage, 1995: Like Gould Campbell, this is traditionally made, spending five years in a bottle. Medium-bodied with spicy black pepper notes, walnuts and kirsch.

Suggested retail: $24.99

» Smith Woodhouse Late Bottle Vintage, 1992: Undoubtedly, this is Smith Woodhouse’s specialty (although they also make outstanding single vintage tawny ports). The grapes come from a single vineyard on the Douro. Only made in the years when Smith Woodhouse feels it offers the character that their LBV has become known for, this nearly 15-year-old wine is the current release. A tempting assortment of cedar, white pepper and spicy wood aromas with silken dusty cherry, plum fruit.

Suggested retail: $29.99

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