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Wine Review: Port a proper choice for cold weather

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Winter time is the time for Port wine.

Just the name Port conjures up images of a fire in the fireplace, an overstuffed chair and a good book. Designed to provide a warming experience, a glass of Port is appropriate for this time of year.
Port is a powerful sweet wine that can serve as an after-dinner drink or as dessert. It has been associated with wealth and opulence and, at one time, gout. It’s a wine that approaches the limits of the allowable alcohol level for a wine, roughly 18 percent.

The higher alcohol level is obtained by stopping fermentation by the addition of brandy to the fermenting wine. The brandy raises the alcohol content to a point where the fermenting yeast cannot exist. Therefore, the yeast dies and fermentation ceases. The result is a semifermented, naturally sweet wine of great depth and finesse. While many nations have had wines that they call Port, nothing can match or rival the Port wines from their home land of Portugal.
The best of the best is classified as vintage Port, which is made only in those years when the grapes achieve near total perfection. The Vintage Port receives no processing after fermentation other than two years of barrel aging. The wine attains its magic in the bottle over a period of years. Thus, people are known to buy large quantities and storing it for long periods of time.
Most Port wine is held in barrels for several years longer than vintage Port. The additional barrel time allows longer contact with the wood and air that makes the wine mellow out faster. Late-bottled vintage Port is made from grapes of a single excellent year, and held in barrels from four to six years. The resultant wine will need no further bottle aging and will not throw sediment like a vintage Port.
Tawny Port is a blend that has been kept in barrels for as long as 30 years to mellow and to develop a velvet texture and rich flavor. Because of a longer time in the wood, the deep red color fades to a yellow/brown, and thus the name, tawny.
Ruby Port is the most readily available and popular form of the wine. Like tawny, ruby Port can be a blend of many grape varieties from different years.
Churchill’s Reserve Porto ($18)
This wine is ready for drinking right now. It is a magnificently full-bodied wine with an expansive aroma and a haunting flavor that very closely emulates a vintage Port without the necessary aging and sediment that always accompanies this style. Churchill’s Reserve Porto is also a wine that, in my opinion, is worth far more than its modest price.
Churchill’s 1999 Late Bottled Vintage Porto ($25)
Although not declared a vintage year, the grapes produce a vibrant wine that is full of flavor with a hint of oak in the aroma and an expansive fruit flavor. The Churchill’s 1999 Late Bottled Vintage Porto is a great introduction to Port wines.
Churchill’s 10-Year-Old Porto ($30)
This wine has been aged in barrels for ten years and has had a dramatic changeover from what was originally put up to age. The time in the wood has bleached the normal vibrant ruby color of a new Port to a brownish/red. It’s also mellowed the flavor to include a nut-like element as well as sweet fruit and just a bit of oak. This is a beautiful wine with which to end a meal.
Churchill’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto ($53)
The brownish hue of the wine identifies it as a tawny Port. While still sweet, it is drier than most other Ports and has a spicy and nutty flavor coupled with a positive oak and caramel background gained from its 20 years resting in oak.

Wine columnist Bennett Bodenstein can be reached at

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