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Port is the Perfect Holiday Wine

Nov 10, 2010 10:51PM ● By Anonymous

True port comes from the Douro region of Portugal. It is made from a blend of many different grapes including Tinta Roriz (also known as Tempranillo in Spain) and several other lesser-known grapes such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa and Tinto Cão. Port is considered a fortified wine because a brandy made from grapes is added during fermentation. The addition of the brandy leaves behind sugars that were never converted to alcohol. The sugars make port sweeter than most wine and the brandy stabilizes the wine giving it more shelf life and strength.

There are three main types of port: ruby ports, tawny (or wood) ports, and the coveted vintage ports. Non-vintage ports like tawny or ruby are a blend of many different years. Vintage Ports are different than the others because they have the year of harvest listed on the bottle and are made only from grapes picked that year. The Port Wine Institute must officially declare vintages and this is only done in years that are considered exceptional, making this a more rare form of port than tawny or ruby.

Ruby ports are the most basic and uncomplicated style of ports. Ruby red in color these ports are only aged in oak for a few years so they retain their fruity and fresh flavors. Think rich and concentrated red berry flavors. These rubies are great accompaniments to berry based desserts and blue cheeses.

Tawny ports are named for their distinctive color and are considered wood ports because they spend the majority of their time aging in oak. This oak aging softens the wine and makes it enjoyable sooner than ports not aged in wood. Like rubies, there are basic tawny ports that are aged for just a few years, which tend to be simple but pleasant. Higher end tawny ports will indicate on the bottle the average number of years the wine spent in oak, e.g., a 10, 20, 30 or 40 Year Tawny. As the number of years increase, so does the complexity of flavor (not to mention the price). Tawnies typically have flavors of nuts, dried fruits with a hint of toastiness, and are great paired with cheeses, chocolate, or nut based desserts. It is important to note that both tawnies and rubies are made ready to drink and once opened and if kept cool will last 2-3 weeks after opening.

Vintage ports are probably the most age worthy wines in the world. Bottle aging will slowly turn their ruby color to brown and give the wine more complex, integrated flavors and balance than other ports. These wines are not filtered, which adds to their richness and guarantees a great deal of sediment making decanting is a must. Vintage ports, if stored properly, will continue to improve for 20 years or more. Once opened vintage ports should be consumed in a matter of days (as if you could wait) and do not have the longer shelf life (2-3 weeks) of younger rubies and tawnies. Vintage ports are rich with flavors of blackberry, raisin, nuts, and coffee. Integrated, smooth and memorable, these wines are one of the wine world’s greatest treats! Classic pairings include chocolate, blue cheese, or a great cigar. Some of the more recent vintages to invest in are 2003, 2000, and 1994. Vintage port from 1983, 1985, 1991, and 1992 are worthy candidate to enjoy now, if you can find them!

Vintage Port is also the basis of one of the best traditions I have ever heard about. When children were born in Victorian England, vintage port was one of the traditional gifts given. The upper class would gift the child a “pipe” of vintage port. A pipe is a cask shaped more like a cigar that was used to transport port from Portugal to England. Each pipe held over 61 cases of port, which was bottled and aged till the child reached adulthood. So as each ventured off into the world they had a lifetime supply of perfectly aged vintage port. For me that would beat a savings bond any day.

No matter what traditions you enjoy this holiday season I hope it includes a glass of port. Here are a few of my favorites, at various prices, that you can pick up for your next holiday celebration:

Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Port

Ruby red with bright fruit flavors of plum and cherry with a touch of spice this wine is a great way to begin a love affair with port.
Retails for $12

Warre’s “Otima” 20 year Tawny Port

Aged for 20 years in seasoned oak barrels this tawny port is the perfect way to end any holiday event. With perfectly balanced tannins and acids each sip is bright and elegant. This tawny has flavors of nuts, raisins and caramel that would pair nicely with a pecan pie or a chocolate mousse. Aged tawnies are made for consumption and will not improve significantly with age so drink up!
Retails for $52

Graham’s 1983 Vintage Port
In 1983 the first mobile phone was introduced by Motorola, MASH aired it s final episode, gas was only $1.25 a gallon and it was a stellar year for vintage port. With 25 years of bottle age under its belt this port at its peak and is ready to drink. This vintage port has aromas of ripe plums and cooked fruit with a hint of chocolate. Elegant and complex the flavors will linger on your palate as you reflect on all that happened in 2008.
Retails for $112

Professional wine educator, Laurie Forster, studied with the American Sommelier Association in Manhattan and earned a certificate in Viticulture and Vinification.