Four days until year’s longest night. Time for crackling fires, reflections, port wine.

Original port comes from Portugal’s Douro Valley. It is called Porto or Vinho do Porto or Port, taking name from Port, Portugal’s second-largest city.

Other countries make port and, like France and Champagne, Portugal protests name usurpation. In U.S., porto can come from anywhere, but Dão, Oporto, and Vinho do Porto must come from Portugal.

Basics: port is fortified wine created by adding brandy to arrest fermentation. In most cases, this creates sweet wine that is high in alcohol and marvelously delicious.

There are plentiful port styles (wine seldom is simple). Broad categories: cask and bottle aged. You are most likely to find ports aged in barrels (casks). Bottle-aged ports are aged in wood a short period, then in bottle for decades, then sold for big bucks.

Whew. TMI. Quick facts: simplest port is “ruby,” aged couple of years in wood; typically has raw, flamboyant personality. “Tawny” port has many styles, but key is much longer wood aging—decades—so color changes to amber or tawny and flavors deepen and improve. Tawny is where the port sipping action is.

Major tawny port categories are 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more. Ages are not exact, but ballpark numbers to reflect general age and quality (to repeat, wine seldom is simple).

Tawny port sweet spot is 20 years. Affordable, wonderful quality.

Full discussion of port requires weeks. Christmas comes sooner. Sipping suggestions:

• Calem Old Friends Tawny Porto. Deliciously smooth, dry fruits, wood, nutty nose; mellow, good length and balance for entry-level. $15

• Fonseca Porto Late Bottle Vintage Unfiltered 2008. Decant; dark, intense, assertive; licorice, chocolate, blackberry; layers of flavors. $22

• Morgenhof Estate Cape Vintage Fortified Wine (S. Africa). Big black cherry, raisins, walnuts; velvet tannin, balance; extremely delicious. $25

• Graham’s 10-Year Tawny Port. Nice spice, apple, very dry, concentrated; vibrant acidity balances creaminess–brown sugar; delicious. $36

• Taylor Fladgate 20-Year Old Tawny Porto. Rich, wonderfully smooth, light for port; apricot, fig, ginger; elegant, complex, buttery. $55

Last round: Person who claimed “best things in life are free” never went to good wine store.