As usual there are a whole raft of offers on port this Christmas but how do you tell what you're getting? Port goes by a confusing number of descriptions. Most of the offers are on basic ruby port which can be made to sound grander than it is by calling it Special Reserve or Vintage Character or somesuch name.
One step up from that is Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) which will have been aged for at least 4-6 years - enough to round out its rougher edges then there's vintage port which is port from a single vintage, bottled when it's still young and aged for 10 years or more. (That's the kind that throws a deposit and which you need to decant. The others you don't)
There are also tawny ports which are aged in wood and have more of a toffee-and-nut flavour as opposed to the warm brambly flavour of ruby ports. They're usually marketed in 10 year bands - mostly 10 year old, occasionally 20 and very rarely 30 or 40 year old.
There's nothing wrong with basic port - in fact it's useful to have some that will do for cooking and mulled wine as well as sipping with mince pies. Here are two that are on offer at the moment:
Cockburns Assured (Normally £9.99, on offer at £4.99 at Somerfield)
With its handsome non-traditional bottle and silver label this is obviously designed to appeal to the younger port drinker. I'm not sure what they mean by 'assured', nor would I get unduly excited by the 'exclusive edition' claim (apparently it's exclusive to Somerfield which some might say is not very exclusive at all) but it's a bright, breezy, berry-flavoured mouthful and certainly a bargain at this price. They say try it with dark chocolate which sounds like a good idea. RATING: ** (**** for the packaging!)
Warre's Warrior Special Reserve (£5.99 Tesco though annoyingly now £8.99 in Sainsbury's which had it at £5.99 last week)
Interestingly the back label tells you almost nothing about this port, merely how incredibly old the Warre's label is and what jolly good vineyards its parent company, the Symington family, owns. This is one of their cheaper ports but still rather more substantial than the Cockburns with a rich, spicy brambly flavour. Could pass for an LBV (which would cost about £4 more) RATING: ***
*Sainsbury's now has a half price offer on Dow's Trademark Finest Reserve at £5.99 which is also a good deal and is selling its own Taste the Difference Vintage Port for £16.99, again cheap for vintage port.