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:
"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:
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:
Here are some desserts that can be paired with Port:
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: