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Ruby Port

Ruby Port is a lustrous, deep red fortified wine that emanates from the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. With its youthful vigour, bold fruit flavours, and striking colour, it represents an accessible entry point into the world of Port wines.

The tale of Ruby Port is steeped in history, dating back to the 17th century when British merchants, affected by war with France, turned to Portugal for their wine supplies. They added a splash of brandy to preserve the wine for the long sea journey back to Britain. Thus, by happenstance, Port wine was born, with Ruby Port being the freshest and most exuberant of its styles.

Unlike its more aged relatives, such as Tawny or Vintage Port, Ruby Port is intended to be consumed relatively young. It retains much of the natural fruitiness and darker hues of the grapes, predominantly due to shorter ageing periods in large oak vats or stainless steel, which prevent oxidative ageing and preserve its rich claret colour. This results in a less complex but more fruit-forward wine that can be appreciated in the bloom of its youth.

Crafting Ruby Port is a meticulous process, beginning with the careful selection of grape varieties. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Cão are among the most commonly used. These grapes are grown on the schistous slopes of the Douro Valley, which stress the vines and contribute to the concentration of the fruit's natural sugars and flavours.

The grapes are typically harvested by hand in late September or early October. In traditional wineries, the grapes are then trodden by foot in large granite lagares to gently crush the fruit and start fermentation. More modern wineries use mechanical methods to replicate this gentle process. The fermentation is stopped by the addition of grape spirit, which raises the alcohol content to about 20% and leaves residual sugar in the wine, giving Ruby Port its characteristic sweetness.

After fermentation, Ruby Port is stored in large tanks made of stainless steel or concrete or in large wooden vats, known as 'balseiros', for a relatively short ageing period, typically two to five years. This ageing process is designed to harmonise the wine, softening the tannins without losing the vibrancy of the fruit. The wine is then filtered and stabilised before bottling.

In the glass, Ruby Port captivates with its vivid red hues and a nose brimming with aromas of red and black fruits such as raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, often complemented by a hint of chocolate or spice. On the palate, it is full-bodied and sweet, with a velvety texture and a robust flavour profile that echoes the nose, with an additional layer of complexity provided by the fortifying spirit.

Ruby Port is often served as a dessert wine, paired with rich, intense flavours like dark chocolate, berry pies, or strong cheeses. It's also a traditional holiday wine, frequently appearing on tables during festive occasions. In recent years, it has gained popularity as a versatile cocktail ingredient, lending depth and richness to mixed drinks.

Despite its sweetness, Ruby Port's robust structure and alcohol content lend it a surprising versatility with a variety of cuisines. It can complement the spiciness of some Asian dishes, balance the sweetness of barbecue sauces, or act as a counterpoint to the savoury depth of blue cheeses.

Connoisseurs of Port know that the experience of drinking Ruby Port is more than the sum of its flavours and aromas; it's about embracing tradition and indulgence. A bottle of Ruby Port is not just a beverage but a reflection of centuries of winemaking tradition, a celebration of the unique terroir of the Douro Valley, and an artefact of the cultural exchanges between Portugal and the rest of the world.

Ruby Port's market is as varied as its uses. It ranges from affordable bottles that offer a casual sweetness and fruit intensity to more premium selections that hint at the complexity achievable within this style. The higher-quality Rubies exhibit a concentration of flavour and a finesse that belies their status as the youngest of Ports.

As for storage, Ruby Port is relatively stable due to its fortification but should be consumed within a few weeks of opening to enjoy its full spectrum of flavours. Unlike some other wines, it does not benefit from extended ageing once bottled and is intended to be enjoyed promptly, reflecting the lively fruitiness of its character.

In the grander scope of viticulture, Ruby Port stands as a testament to the craft of fortified winemaking, a reminder that sometimes the most straightforward expressions of wine are also the most pleasurable. With its vibrant colours, rich fruit flavours, and undeniable Portuguese charm, Ruby Port is a gem in the crown of fortified wines, offering a sip of luxury that is both approachable and deeply rooted in the culture from which it comes.

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