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What is the red in port wine cheese?

Port wine cheese is a soft, creamy cheese with a distinct pinkish-red color and sweet port wine flavor. The red color comes from the port wine that is mixed into the cheese. Port wine is a fortified wine that originates from the Douro region of Portugal. It gets its rich red hue from being aged in barrels along with grape skins and seeds, which impart their red pigment. When port wine is blended into cheese curds, it not only gives the cheese its signature color, but also contributes fruity, sweet flavors.

What is port wine?

Port wine is a sweet, fortified wine that is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal. Here are some key facts about port wine:

  • Fortified wine – Port wine has a distilled grape spirit known as aguardente added to it during fermentation. This increases the alcohol content and stops fermentation early, leaving residual sugar and resulting in a sweet, high-alcohol wine.
  • Made from Portuguese grape varieties – The main grapes used are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão.
  • Aged in barrels – After fortification, port wine is aged for 2-6 years in wooden barrels which impart flavor and color.
  • Deep red/purple color – The grapes’ skin and seeds give port its rich, dark red-purple hue.
  • Sweet taste – The unfermented sugars make port wine sweet and smooth.
  • High alcohol content – Port ranges from 19-22% ABV.

So in summary, port wine gets its trademark deep red-purple color from prolonged contact with grape skins and seeds during fermentation and aging. This is also what gives it intense fruity, spicy flavors.

How is port wine used in cheese?

To make port wine cheese, port is added to the cheese curds before pressing. Typically, port wine cheese is made from a blend of Cow and Sheep milk. Here is the general process:

  1. The cow and sheep milk is curdled using rennet, which causes the milk to coagulate and separate into solid curds and liquid whey.
  2. The whey is drained off, and the curds are salted and mixed with port wine.
  3. The port-infused curds are placed into molds, pressed, and aged for 1-3 months.
  4. The result is a soft, spreadable cheese infused with port wine’s distinct purple color and sweet flavor.

The amount of port wine added can vary, but usually makes up around 8-12% of the cheese. The more port added, the deeper the color and more intense the port flavor.

What causes the red/purple color in port wine?

The deep ruby-purple color of port wine is due to two water-soluble pigments found in the skins, pulp and seeds of red grape varieties:


Anthocyanins are red, blue and purple plant pigments found in many fruits and vegetables. In red grapes, the main anthocyanins are malvidin, petunidin, delphinidin and peonidin. During fermentation and aging, these anthocyanins are extracted from the grape skins into the wine. Higher anthocyanin content leads to a deeper, more intense wine color.


Tannins are polyphenolic compounds that come from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. As port wine ages in barrels, tannins are released and impart a darker color through polymerization and oxidation reactions. The tannins also contribute to port’s mouth-puckering astringency.

So in summary, the combination of antioxidant anthocyanins and polyphenolic tannins give port wine its characteristic deep red-violet color. When blended into cheese, these colorful pigments get transferred and create the pinkish-purple hue of port wine cheese.

Does the red color have any flavor impact?

The red anthocyanins and tannins in port wine do not directly contribute flavor. However, they can influence the overall taste profile in the following ways:

  • Mouthfeel – Tannins create an astringent, drying, grippy sensation.
  • Acidity – Anthocyanins enhance acidity and freshness.
  • Fruit flavor – Anthocyanins reinforce the fruity, berry notes.
  • Sweetness – The tannins and anthocyanins balance the sweetness.
  • Color expectations – The red-purple color subconsciously primes the brain to expect certain flavors (fruity, jammy).

So while the pigments themselves have no distinct flavor, their interaction with other wine compounds modifies the overall sensory experience. When port wine is mixed into cheese, these color-flavor associations get transferred to the final product.

Does the red color denote quality?

For port wine in particular, a deep red-violet color does correlate with higher quality. However, the color alone is not enough to judge quality. Here are some other factors that determine port quality:

Intensity of color

Premium ports have very opaque, inky colors while lower quality ports can appear thin and pale. Extracting lots of color pigments requires prolonged skin contact and aging.


Better ports are smoothly sweet with layers of flavor rather than just sugariness.


The best ports have intense, complex fruit flavors (blackberry, plum, cherry) balanced with spice notes.


Higher quality ports coat the mouth and have well-integrated, ripe tannins rather than aggressive astringency.

So in summary, color is a useful indicator of quality but needs to be assessed alongside aroma, flavor and texture to judge the overall merit of a port wine.

How does port wine cheese get its red color?

Port wine cheese obtains its signature pinkish-red hue from the port wine added during production. The red-purple pigments from the port grapes’ skins and seeds get infused directly into the curds, creating an attractive, vivid color. More port typically means a deeper, more intense color. But as we learned above, the amount of pigments extracted also depends on factors like grape variety, fermentation technique, and barrel aging time. So color alone doesn’t necessarily denote quality or port content in the cheese. You need to also consider the cheese’s texture, body, sweetness and port flavor nuances. While visual appeal is important, ultimately taste and mouthfeel matter most when enjoying port wine cheese.


In summary, the red-purple color of port wine and port wine cheese comes from two water-soluble pigments extracted from red grape skins and seeds:

  • Anthocyanins – Red/blue/purple pigments
  • Tannins – Polyphenolic compounds that produce darker hues when oxidized

During cheesemaking, port wine is added to the curds, infusing these colorful compounds directly into the cheese. This gives port wine cheese its distinctive pinkish-red tone. While the pigments themselves don’t provide flavor, they influence properties like astringency, acidity, fruitiness and sweetness perception. So the color provides clues about the overall taste profile. For quality port wine and cheese, you want an intense, opaque color paired with multilayered fruit, spice, sweetness and a smooth mouthfeel. So next time you see that rosy hue, you can appreciate the chemistry behind port wine cheese!