Port: A warming drop for winter
It's as good a time as any for a quick refresher course on Port, a warming, hearty dessert wine that's as welcome as a crackling fire in a cozy room on a cold winter night.
With all respect to the fine Port-style wines made in Australia (where summer begins on Friday and it's no time for talk of Port), let's focus today on the genuine original, which takes its name from the city where it's made, Oporto, Portugal. It's a "fortified" wine, made strong and sweet by the addition of brandy to the fermenting red grape juice before fermentation is complete. The brandy stops the fermentation before all the natural fruit sugar in the wine has been consumed, resulting in a sweet, strong wine. Most often served after dinner, by itself or with cheese and nuts, it contains about 20 percent alcohol, nearly double the strength of table wines, so it's best sipped in small portions!
There are several different kinds of Port, and they vary substantially in cost and style. Vintage Port, generally regarded as the finest (and most expensive) Port, is made entirely of grapes grown in a specific year, and it's offered only in years when nature cooperates by providing a quality harvest. Vintage Port requires many years of age before it is ready to drink. It "throws" a substantial sediment in the bottle with time, so it is customarily served from a decanter, taking care to leave the muddy sediment behind.
Don't want to wait for your wine to mature? Try Tawny Port, which is held in barrels for years before bottling. This process mellows the wine while its color turns from ruby red to golden brown. Tawny Ports are deliciously sweet, usually have no sediment, and are ready to drink when you buy them.
Ruby Port is non-vintage (usually a blend of several years), and is considered less fine; compared to a well-aged Vintage Port it's typically both simple and a bit rough. But at prices ranging from under $10 to $20 or so, it's a good starting point. You'll also Late Bottled Vintage Port, which is a sort of vintage-dated Ruby, generally simpler and less expensive than Vintage Port; and Colheita, a vintage-dated Tawny.
Because Port has been immensely popular in Britain and the English-speaking world for centuries, many of the major producers bear English names. A roster of the top "houses" (listed alphabetically) might include Churchill, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Ferreira, Fonseca, Gould Campbell, Graham, Martinez, Niepoort, Offley Forrester, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Noval, Ramos-Pinto, Sandeman, Smith Woodhouse, Taylor Fladgate and Warre.
I would also note that one of those houses, A.A. Ferreira, has been a 30 Second Wine Advisor sponsor during this holiday season, marking its 250th anniversary with a special offer of two very luxurious, limited-edition cabinets holding collections of rare and very old Vintage Port. Should these be of interest, you'll find the details below and on the Ferreira Website (in Portuguese and English), which you can reach through http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/porto.html.
For more reading about Port, you might also enjoy the following articles on WineLoversPage.com:
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Young but drinkable Vintage Port
Duff Gordon 1994 Vintage Oporto ($24.99) Clear dark ruby, with appealing scents of licorice, dark plums and stone fruit, a holiday fruitcake in a glass. Very full-bodied and ripe, tart acidity and firm tannins, but there's so much fruit that it's surprisingly accessible already. Like most Vintage Port, it will benefit from much more aging. But - especially if you can find it for a price like this - there's no reason not to enjoy it now. U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Fla. (Dec. 17, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: We enjoyed it as a warming after-dinner glass, although one of Port's natural companions is blue-veined cheese.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer's Website is at http://www.palmbayimports.com/.
Best gift for a wine fanatic?
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The 2000 Years Ferreira's Vintage Port Cabinet is made up of 24 bottles of Vintage Ferreira Port Wine whose summed ages amount to 2000 years in 2001.
The 250 Years Ferreira's Vintage Port Cabinet is made up of six bottles of Vintage Ferreira Port Wine whose summed ages amount to 250 years in 2001.
The two Cabinets have been made of Portuguese oak by local craftsmen, and the bottles are in drawers marked in chronological order with the year of each Vintage. Each Cabinet includes six Riedel glasses and the book "A.A. Ferreira - Wines Steeped in History." The book describes the weather conditions and the main events in Portugal and abroad in each of the years and contains the tasting notes for each Vintage.
In view of the extreme rarity and delicacy of these Ports, only 10 collections of the 2000 Years Vintage and 250 collections of the 250 Years Vintage will be made available. Come and visit these exclusive collections at www.2000yearsvintage.com by clicking to http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/porto.html.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 48, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2001