Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Perfect Port For A Perfect Storm

Port is the perfect beverage on a stormy winter night. The original central heating, perhaps, it will light a warm glow in your belly as you sit by the fire contemplating the evening's repast. Or perhaps, it will accompany an exquisite blue cheese such as Faume D'Aubert, Bleu D'Auvergne or Stilton. Or you will serve it with walnuts to your guests as you sit around the Holiday table. Americans and English almost always have Port after the main course. The French, of course, have it before, as an aperitif.

In the old days, English gentlemen passed the port clockwise, or was it counterclockwise, to the accompaniment, perhaps, of fine Havana cigars, discussing such heavy topics as "shares" and railroad bonds. For most of us, Port is just as confusing as Finance. What's the difference between Ruby Port and Tawny Port? Isn't Tawny Port older the Vintage Port? Or is it visa versa? And what is Late Bottled Port anyway?

Port is a fascinating and confusing topic. It is a delicious beverage. Like, Champagne, and unlike Pinot Noir, the overall quality and consistency of Port is fairly high, so you can be fairly comfortable picking a bottle off the shelf, but some Port is definitely better than others. Some day, we will go into much greater detail and tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Port and more.

For now, here is a quick and easy guide, so you can buy Port for holiday gifting now. Porto is made from grapes grown in the Douro region of northern Portugal. The "Porto" name can only be used for wine made in Portugal. "Port" can be used for almost any wine where the fermentation has been stopped by the addition of brandy thus leaving some residual sugar and, hence, sweetness in the wine. Thus, "Port" can be made anywhere, from any grape or combination of grapes such as Merlot or Zinfandel. "Porto" is made from grapes particular to the Douro such as Mourisco, Tinta, and Tourigas. We will concentrate on Portuguese Porto.

Much of the wine used to be shipped to England in casks where it was aged and bottled by English wine merchants. Other Port was made and bottled in Portugal by Portuguese merchants. Now, all Porto is made and bottled in Portugal, but the English merchants are still just as involved as they have been for the past several hundred years. The great English Port names are the most reliable: Taylor, Fonseca, Graham, Dow, Croft, and Warre's. Sandeman, also.

Ruby and Tawny Port are aged in wood and stop ageing once they are bottled. They are non-vintage and relatively light-bodied. Tawny is supposedly older and "tawnier" in color than Ruby but this is ill defined. Sandeman "Warrior's" Port is a good example.

Non-vintage Tawny Port that has been aged in wood for ten, twenty, thirty years or more can be an eye opener. The exquisitely subtle mahogany color combined with the flavor of toasted nuts and vanilla is indeed an experience of bliss, especially in front of a warming fire. Try Taylor. It should say "Ten Year", etc., on the label. These wines are expensive and hard to find, but worth it, if you have the bread. As I think about it, I think I would buy this as a gift for myself, if I could.

Finally, the last kind of Port that stops ageing once it is bottled is Late-Bottled Vintage Port or LBV. This one is aged in wood and the grapes all come from a single year, thus there is a date on the bottle, but it is not Vintage Port. You will see why in a minute. This wine, all from the same vintage, is aged in wood and bottled after a varying amount of time. It tastes like a cross between Ruby Port and Vintage Port. A good example, and the perfect holiday gift, is 2000 Taylor Late-Bottled Port which is available at Trader Joe's and other retailers for about $20. Other than Vintage Port, this may be the best Port I've had in quite a while. It is perfectly balanced, smooth, luscious, and satisfying. The quintessential Port, you might say. Just a reminder, all of these will not age in the bottle, so no point in keeping them! Drink up!

Vintage Port! This ages for years - twenty, thirty, forty years, if you have a cool place to store it undisturbed and you have the patience or will power not to drink it too early. In contrast to Late-Bottled Port, this stuff is always aged in wood for exactly two years, then bottled, and keeps on getting better in the bottle. But, please, if you should be so fortunate as to receive a bottle as a gift, don't save it standing up in that warm cabinet over the fridge. Lay it down in the coolest place you can find. This elixir is expensive ($50 -$150), but worth it. Buy it for your boss, or better yet, have your spouse buy you a bottle. Somewhat less expensive is Quinta port. A quinta is a ranch or vineyard, so this is a vintage port from a specific vineyard, usually the best vineyard owned by the port house. These are usually lighter than regular vintage port and somewhat less expensive. Quinta port will be named "Quinta do ---(vineyard name)." Vintage Port is mouthfilling, even after a sip, and you should sip. Vintage port is truly bottled pleasure. The best producers are: Taylor, Fonseca, Graham, Dow, Croft and Warre. Churchill and Quinta do Noval are excellent, too. The best years are: 1960, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1992, 1994, 2000, and 2003.

Well, that was quick and easy wasn't it? The French have a saying, "Why make it simple, if you can make it complicated?" Oh, well! The bottom line? Buy 2000 Taylor Late-Bottled Vintage Port for everyone, including yourself! It's the perfect Port for a Perfect Storm!

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