Taste: Spirits: Into Port

Forget cigars, chocolate, and those ­miniature glasses. True aficionados are swirling port in snifters, and with every course

There are few better ways to finish a meal than with a glass of port. Stronger and sweeter than other red wines, port is fortified with brandy. Dark, inky ports are protected from air to retain vibrant fruit flavors. Russet-gold ports, known as “tawny” styles, are mellowed in oak barrels to develop nutty, caramel tones with age. All ports are sticky-sweet and strong, with a fiery, spicy ­finish that is the style’s hallmark.

Port can be frustrating to serve at home. The wines are unexpectedly fragile, their aromatics and flavor fading quickly once a bottle is opened. As a result, restaurants remain the best places to sample ports, but even there, buyer beware.

Extensive selections of ports may look impressive, but don’t bode well for each wine’s freshness. Expensive vintage ports sell slowest, so ask when the bottle was opened. (Ideally, that day. But definitely that week.) Also, the tiny cordial glasses in which port is often served do no justice to the wine’s luxuriant aromas. White-wine glasses and snifters provide more room for swirling.

From salty snacks to sweet sauces on red meats, port can flatter more than just chocolate and cigars. Explore the offerings at Capital Grille or Lacroix at the Rittenhouse over a plate of blue cheeses. Sip an aged tawny while nibbling bar nuts at the Bellevue’s Library Lounge or at Sullivan’s in King of Prussia. Or break with tradition to discover port’s versatility, by pairing a glass of late-bottled vintage port with Barclay Prime’s signature rib eye slathered with homemade steak sauce.