Chilly Outside: Time to Court a Port

Hello Friends,

Enjoy any good Port wines lately? A good Port wine makes for a delicious after-dinner wine, as well as a satisfying and warming wine to enjoy on a cold winter night – much like the balmy nights we are experiencing now. I personally refer to Port as a “great fireplace wine” - nothing quite like a rich and sweet Port wine, a good book, and a toasty fireplace.

A little background: Much like champagne, port came about by accident. During the late 17th century, rivalry and war with the French heightened, compelling the British to seek out alternative wine sources for their market. Up until this time, most of what the Brits consumed was French wine. Portugal was a benefactor of this rivalry along with Spain. There was one problem, however. The British needed to find a way to get the wines across the sea from Portugal without spoiling. The solution was to add brandy (neural grape alcohol) to fortify the wine. Over time, this rich, sweet, and powerful wine came to be fancied by many. This process leads us to what we know today as Port wine.

Court a Port lately?

Many grapes varieties are allowed in the production of Port (40+), but the main ones are Touriga Nacional (grown and produced as a varietal wine here in Virginia) and Francesa, Tinta Barroca and Roriz (also known as Tempranillo), etc. The sweet fortified wine of Portugal goes through the usual wine making process with one exception. Partway through fermentation, neutral grape alcohol is added, which stops fermentation. The brandy spirits kills the yeast before fermentation is allowed to complete. This results in 8-10 percent of residual sweetness and an alcohol level of 18-20 percent, which is nearly double that of regular table wines. Depending on style and type, the wine is later barrel- aged from 2..3..5 to 50 years. This gives Port its richness, character, sweetness, vigor, and in some, elegance and complexity. TIP: With so many port-style wines on the market today, genuine port wines are sometimes labeled “Porto” to distinguish themselves from the herd.

Many Shades of Port

Port can basically be broken down into 4 categories: Ruby, Tawny, Vintage, and White Port. Ruby Ports are made from mediocre batches of blended wine and aged in wood for two to three years. These affordable wines are ready for consumption upon release and are not very age worthy. Ruby wines exhibit a bright red color and can best be described as sweet, fruity, and approachable. Tawny Ports see more time in the barrel than Ruby Ports, and are aged in wood anywhere from 5 to 50 years. A Tawny Port will lose the youngish red color to a more brownish / orange (tawny) color. This wine is slightly drier than a Ruby and usually displays added complex nuances of nuttiness, spice, and dried/ baked fruit flavors. Some Tawny Ports will be labeled 10, 20, 30, etc., which indicates the average age of the wine in the blend. Try these out as they are usually made of higher quality wines and, of course, cost a little more. Next is Vintage Port, which is some of the most adored and most expensive Port wines. Vintage Port is a blend of high quality wines from a single vintage (declared year). Not every vintage is declared, so these are only made when Mother Nature does right by the vineyards. To give you an idea, these make up about 3% of total Port production. These generally spend two years in wood and are bottled. Aged vintage Port is regarded by connoisseurs to be some of the best Port wines offered: smooth, elegant, rich, forward, perfumed, and complex are descriptors that can used to describe these types of Port wines. Also look for (LBV) Late Bottle Vintage Port wines, which are also made from a blend of wines from a single vintage and aged in wood longer. Note, these wines are generally not as high in quality as Vintage Ports, but similar in character and less expensive. White Ports, which I do not try enough of, are produced in the same manner as the red, but white grape varieties are used instead. These are usually fruity and slightly sweet and ready to be drunk upon release.

Only thing missing: A glass of Vintage Port

There are also numerous Port-style wines from the U.S. and other wine producing regions to try. While these admirers are all good, I’m sure, genuine Port wine, especially aged Tawny and Vintage Port are at the peak of the Port game. For a Virginia spin on Port, try Snort, a popular Port-styled wine produced at Winery at La Grange in Prince William County. A lot of Virginia wine lovers that I know rave about this wine. Also, try the Rabelos Virginia Dessert Wine, another Port-styled wine produced by Potomac Point Winery in Stafford County. Lastly, be sure to drop me an e-mail and let me know of any great Port experiences.

Stay tuned friends ... More to come!!!

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