Port Wine

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The crisp autumn wind of Hoboken swept through the streets like an unleashed lion, growling in trees and roaring around newly constructed condominiums the last few nights, which signaled to me one thing: buy some port wine.

When it gets cold out, I love drinking my port. I have always been a bit of an oenophile, since my days of studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I was not introduced to port wine until I was at a company dinner, at The Post House a few years ago. We had our customary grand banquet of charred animal flesh and bottle after bottle of fermented red grapes. The only thing missing was for the group of men to run shirtless around the streets of New York in search of a mate. Men know what I am talking about, and women certainly must have some experience with that testosterone "Type A" rituals that happen with New York men.

But this one night was a bit different. Before running into the concrete jungle my boss ordered a bottle of port wine for the group. The wine was by a vinter called Taylor Fladgate, and it was a 20 year old tawny...

...and it was heaven.

The tawny blend had a tempered balance between a rich raisin taste and a sweet nutty note. It was served in very small port glasses, which looked like miniature wine glasses, and was meant to be sipped. After enjoying this after dinner drink, we went out into the night and had our fun - and the next day I started to do some research into port wine.

Port is a fortified wine from the remote vineyards in Portugal's Douro Valley. The name "Port" was created from the city of Oporto, located at the mouth of a 560-mile long river called Rio Douro or "River of Gold". The term "port wine" can only refer to wines created in the Douro Valley, much like French wines claim titles to certain regions. Port was first created by the Portuguese of the 17th century, who had experience creating wine since the days that the Romans introduced wine to the Iberian Peninsula in the first century B.C.

It all began in 1678 when Britian declared war on France and the ports of France were blockaded. This created a worldwide shortage of wine, and British merchants looked to Portugal to fill that void. Unfortunately the quality of wine in Portugal wasn't on the same scale that French vinters had created, and the British took matters into their own hands - many merchants, quite a few of them Scotsmen, became involved with the production of wine.

There is a story that port, as we know it today, was created by abbots in the Douro Valley. An abbot was adding brandy to the wine during, rather than after, the fermentation process which created a port-type wine, which was sweet, fruity and strong. In the seafaring days, it took a long time for wine to be shipped, and shippers would add brandy to allow the wine to last longer and be more resistant to changes in temperatures. Hence these wines became known as "fortified wines".

In the Douro Valley, they have 48 authorized grape varities which can be used to create port.

Two different categories define port - bottle aged or cask aged. They produce two distinct differences in port. Bottle aged ports keep their color, and are more fruity as they age - these are meant to mature in the bottle. Cask aged ports lose much of their color and become tawny, a light brown to brownish orange, color - these are ready to drink right away.

Here are the different styles of port:

  • Ruby: The most basic and least expensive of ports. It is a blend of different grape harvests, and spends about three years in stainless steel or wood casks before bottled.
  • Tawny: This is aged at least six years in a cask before bottled. Some lesser quality tawny is a mixture of Ruby and White ports. The higher quality ports acquire their pale color from its aging in the cask, which produces a drier and nuttier quality to the port because of oxidation.
  • Aged Tawny: This is the best of the tawny Ports. Their age tells how long they are in the cask for - 10,20,30 or 40 years! So if you see a 20 year old bottle of Tawny port, it spent at least 20 years sitting in a cask before it was bottled. Again, these are ready to drink right away and are not meant to be stored any longer in the bottle.
  • Colheita: I have yet to try one of these, but they are a tawny from a single vintage. It needs to spend at least seven years in a wood cask, but most of these are aged much longer. The age of the wine indicates the year it was bottled and should be drunk within a year of that date. Its a very rare type of port, feel free to invite me over to your house if you acquire one of these.
  • White: These can be very dry or very sweet, and the sweetest is designated as "Lagrima". Can be served straight up or on the rocks.
  • Crusted: Named because of a crust of sediment that forms in the bottle. This is a blend of port from several 3 year old vintages.
  • Vintage Character: Also called Super or Premium Ruby, which are blends that have been aged from four to six years before it is filtered and bottled. These ports have more body and fruitiness than tawnys but they don't have the complexities associated with vintage Ports.
  • Single-Quinta: They can be tawny or vintage ports, but the grapes come from only one vineyard during "undeclared" years - those years where the harvest is good, but not exceptional.
  • Late Bottled Vintage: This is known as "LBV", where the vintage is deemed not good enough to make into a "Vintage Port". These ports are leftt in wood for four to six years, then fined and filtered before bottling. These bottled are expected to age a bit more, but not as long as the Vintage Ports.
  • Vintage Port: These are the finest and most expensive of the Port styles. Only 2% of all port production is Vintage port, and I have never had a true Vintage before. These Ports come from a single harvest of exceptional quality, and bottled after aging two or three years in a cask. The wine then spends many years maturing in the bottle, from 15 to 50 years! These wines must be decanted before serving.

    "Declaring the vintage": Withing two years of each harvest each "Quinta" or House must decide if that particular harvest was of an exceptional quality. If so, those are released as a Vintage Port, and its known as declaring the vintage. The first vintages were declared around 1734, and in our day and age the best recent vintages are (Taylor's Vintages): 2000, 1997, 1994, 1992, 1985, 1983, 1980, 1977, 1975, 1970, 1966, 1963 and 1960.

    There are certain "Port Groups" that are the major players in the Port market and can own one or more "Port Houses".

    For example, my favorite Port Group is Taylor, Fladgate and Fonseca. They own the Port Houses (year founded) of: Fonseca (1822), Fonseca-Guimaraens (1822) and Taylor Fladgate(1692). Some other Top Port Houses, that I enjoy are Dow (1798) and Warre (1670) of the Port Group, Symington Port Shippers.

    When drinking port you don't need to be an expert to enjoy it - but you may enjoy it more if you before you drink you know a few things about what you are going to taste. You need to rely on what your eyes, nose and mouth for this one:

  • Sight: Remember what I said about color of the different wines? You need to first evaluate what you are drinking to determine the type, age and condition. You hold the glass upright at a 45 degree angle, looking at the meniscus edge for its hue and intensity.
  • Aroma: Before you drink, smell the bouquet of the wine. Only take one deep sniff, and that's it. As you drink more port (and normal wine), you will begin to detect the subtle differences in each kind of wine that you drink. The first sense of smell stimulates your olfactory cells that line the upper nose.
  • Taste: When taking your first taste of a port, or any wine for that matter, you will note the different characteristics of the wine: Sweetness, Fruity, Dry, Wet, Nutty, Woody, Tannic, etc. Many times before I drink a particular port I will do some online research on that port to find out what I should expect when drinking it.

    Port, like any wine can be matched to certain foods. Typically port is a dessert wine, but is also well matched with cheese. Now using my styles from above, here is a guideline of what port matches with what kind of cheese:

  • White: Hard, crumbly cheeses like Wensleydale, Cheshire, Caerphilly.
  • Ruby: Full flavored goat's cheeses like Ticklemore, Crottin de Chavignol.
  • 10 Year Old Tawny: Hard sheep's milk cheeses like Berkswell or Pyrenean.
  • Vintage Character: Full flavored cheeses both hard & soft like Mature cheddar, Pont L'Eveque.
  • LBV: Soft, creamy cheeses like Brie de Meaux or Waterloo.
  • Vintage: Blue cow's milk cheeses like Stilton or Dorset Blue Vinny.

    Here are some desserts that can be paired with Port:

  • Ruby Port: Dark Chocolate Mousse.
  • 10 Year Old Tawny: Crème Brulee, Pecan Pie, Fruitcake.
  • 20 Year Old Tawny: Apple Pie, Almond Biscotti, Fig and Pistachio Tart.
  • LBV 1994: Dark Chocolate Almond Tart.
  • Vintage Port: Flourless Chocolate Cake, Hazelnut Chocolate Tart.

    Port should be served around 65 degrees, in a half filled, narrow wine glass. This keeps the alcoholic content from overwhelming the flavors. A vintage port should be drunk within 24 hours after decanting. Rubies can last about a month and Tawnys can last about 4 months as long as if they are kept corked after opening.

    Here are some links in case you want to find out some more information regarding port wine:

  • Exploring the World of Wine: Good place to find out some information on wine, and I, ahem, "borrowed" a lot of my research from this site.
  • Sparrow Wine & Liquor: They have a wine club, which I considered joining, plus they are very helpful with getting good port wine.
  • Port and Douro Wines Institute: An official body that belongs to the Portugal Ministry of Agriculture, a good site that has a lot of Port information.
  • About.com Port Wine Info - this is a smaller information page, but also contains some good information and I took some of my research from here.
  • AskMen.com: When you are done looking for ways to get a woman in bed or suggestions on waxing your backhair, read this a bit to get caught up on some port information.
  • Port Wine Online.com - This is a snazzy new site that is similar to wine.com. I noticed that their prices really aren't that great, but may be good if you are a hermit who doesn't get outside of their house very often.

  • 2 Comments

    Great entry... I love port. I've always looked for someone else who loves it to share the experience.

    Thanks for posting.

    i used to drink at the port as well... it's just fun :) thnks for sharing all that,
    tim.

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    This page contains a single entry by Furey published on November 4, 2004 9:37 AM.

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