Thursday, February 8, 2007

Port Wine. Nature's Candy?

So I got a call from a buddy on Wednesday night with a wine question. He was curious to know if Port wine would be a good match for a cheese cake desert he planned to enjoy. Man, now I was on the spot...I needed to recall some of the info I learned from my visit to Porto in Portugal over the summer. Me, the wife, and my bro and sis-in-law visited the Sandeman facility there. One word...AMAZING! But anyway, back to my buddy's question. It got me to thinking that I should write a post about Port, since it may be very unfamiliar to many of you.

First, let me tell you that real Port wine is comes only from Portugal, the Duoro Region to be specific. Port wine is definitely a desert wine, and is different because it has above average alcohol content (most range between 19 and 22% volume). It's also special as its color and sweetness range according to the different types of Port.

White Port - Mrs. Vine Guy's favorite!
Made from a selection of white grape varieties, and is then aged and fortified. It is typically a simple multi-year blend of vintages, can be sweet or dry depending on the house style.

Ruby Port
The most basic of port styles. This label given to younger wines that display a deep color; they are fairly fruity and are, on average, 2 years old. This is made with a blend of red grape varieties and is blended from several years. It should not be aged, and tends to taste of berries, with light tannins.

Tawny Port
Is a ruby port that has been aged for several years in small oak barrels. This gives the port a tawny color, as well as a buttery, caramel flavor. If a tawny port is listed as being "10 years" or "20 years", this means that the *average* vintages used in the blend is that number. A 10 year tawny might include some wine from 8 years old, and some from 12 years old, and so on. These are usually sweet. The decreed age indicators are 10, 20, 30, and even more than 40 years.

Dated Port Wines
From a single year can be sold after they have aged for at least 7 years. These uniform types are labeled "dated Port." Mrs. Vine Guy and I bought 3 bottles of a 1999. And also bought a bottle for Grape Nut when we were there.

Vintage Port
Is the high end of port releases. Vintages, as the name suggests, are wines of superior quality, produced in exceptionally great years from distinct areas within the region. Only the best years are declared a vintage and used for this purpose. Vintage Ports account for only two percent of all Port wine made. All of the grapes from a single harvest are used in a given wine - i.e. a 2000 vintage port contains only grapes from the 2000 harvest. This wine is aged in oak and then aged in the bottle. When you buy a vintage port, often you must then age it for another 10-30 years before it is at its best drinking flavor. This is the type of port you find in expensive cellars, waiting for decades to be enjoyed. Vintages are very full-bodied and deep-colored. Once they are in the aging process, they get a smoothness and elegance. Some exceptional vintage years include 1945, 1955, 1963, 1970. Others of note are 1977, 1980, 1983, 1994, 1997, and 2000. 80, 83 and 97 are very good buys compared to the prices of some of the other years I mention.

Late Bottled Vintage (L.B.V.)
Port is also from a single year, only it's borne from years of excellent quality and is aged longer in wood than is the case with vintage Port. It was created specifically for the restaurant market, to give them a vintage type port that did not have a sediment and could last a while after being opened. Generally, it is bottled between the fourth and sixth year after it is made and is red in color, full-bodied and smooth. When you buy your LBV port, you should drink it soon - it is not meant for aging. When you open this bottle, though, you can expect it to last for a full month before starting to lose its flavor. Traditionally, it's more gentle and full-bodied than vintage Port wine (of the same year).

So, which Port is right for You? Well, generally I recommend newer Port drinkers start off with a tawny that provides an excellent introduction to Port drinking and are relatively inexpensive. Moreover, you can drink it at the time of purchase. Tawny Ports of very good quality are often sold with an indication of the time they have spent in cask: ranging 10, 20 or 30 and even 40 years. By the way, I recommended my buddy with the cheesecake pick up a 10 year Tawny.

This info on Port wine is a great segue into our visit to Portugal for the world wine tour. Don't forget, starting Monday, we will review 5 wines from Portugal. I hope you'll join us. Also, don't forget to vote for where we go after Portugal.
That's all for now. If you have questions or comments, let me know. Remember to swirl, sniff and swig. Have a great weekend!


Sergeant-At-Arms said...

Wow. Thanks for that info. It is very helpful. I will have to try some.

Grape Nut said...

Great post. I wasn't aware that LBV would last longer. That would be perfect for me, as the only port drinker in the house. Less waste.