Colheita (pronounced Col-yate-a) is pure and simply, a single vintage-dated Tawny Port, (all grapes are from one harvest) which are aged in small used oak barrels. In Portugese the word "Colheita" actually means "harvest" and can be construed therefore, to mean vintage as well. Colheita Ports may also go by the name of "Port of the Vintage" and therefore must not be confused with Vintage Port, even though it is vintage dated on the label. If "Reserve" or "Reserva" is on the label...it means that the wine is a Colheita and not a VP. This confuses many individuals who think of “Reserve” in the typical sense of domestic wines in America. Colheita must be aged in cask at least 7 years, but eight years is pretty typical, but they may spend as many as 50 or more years maturing in wood. Look for the date of bottling on the front or the back label ("Bottled In 19XX or 20XX") along with the words "matured in wood" or "aged in cask"...both of which are further clues that this is not a Vintage Port. Colheitas offer excellent value as these wines are well aged, can be considered outstanding quality Tawny Ports, and are less expensive than similarly aged VP's. Caveat: the wines must be of outstanding quality going into the bottle as aging alone will not make a decent wine great.
Like VPs, Colheitas are "declared" after approval by the I.V.D.P. (Port and Douro Wine Institute, located in Oporto with a secondary branch in Lisboa). There is even less Colheita produced than VP, approximately 1% of all Port produced and mostly Portuguese Port Shippers produce the great ones, but others like Niepoort, Kopke and Quinta do Noval are famous for this style too and just happen to be my three favorites. But Ferreira, Burmester, Barros, Ramos Pinto, Warre’s and Borges all make stand out examples as well. It is far more popular in Portugal than here in the U.S. where it is just becoming more popular in the past five years.
There are some Colheitas from the 1800’s that are still aging in small oak barrels in Portugal! Colheitas change dramatically during this extended time in cask and take on flavors of dried fruits, nuts, citrus and exotic spices, while becoming very smooth and complex the older they get.