What picture crosses the mind when the name Port is heard? Henry VIII devouring chicken and slobbering over a flagon of Port wine or perhaps it is a portly gentleman in a smoking jacket, sitting in an overstuffed chair by the fireplace sipping Port wine and smoking a fat cigar?
Unfortunately, Port has gotten a bad rap by being associated with rich living and rich foods, as well as once being thought to be the cause of gout.
The reality is, Port, is a powerful, sweet wine that serves as an after-dinner drink or as part of dessert. It is 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 the fermentation process with the addition of brandy to the fermenting wine. The brandy raises the alcohol content to a point above which the fermenting yeast cannot exist, therefore, the yeast dies and fermentation ceases. The result is a partially fermented, naturally sweet wine of great power, depth and finesse. While many nations have had wines that they call Port, nothing can match or rival the opulence of Port wines from their home land of Portugal.
The best of the best is classified as vintage Port. It 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 of quiet aging.
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, making the wine mellow out faster. Late-bottled vintage Port is made from grapes of a single excellent year, and held in barrels for from four to six years. The resultant wine will need no further bottle aging and will not throw sediment as will 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, this Port can be a blend of many grape varieties from different years.
Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($36)
This wine approaches the limits of the allowable alcohol level, at roughly 20 percent. This incarnation of the variety has been held in barrels for 10 years, to mellow and develop greater depth with the beautiful brownish hue that identifies it. 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. The finish of this wine is as memorable as the flavor and remains on the palate for a long time. This is a perfect way to end a special dinner or to sip while sitting in front of the fireplace or watching a movie on a cold winter night.
Graham’s Six Grape Reserve Porto ($24)
This is an interesting blend of six local grapes from the Port grape growing region in Portugal. It is a very dignified and flavorful Port with a seductive flavor and aroma.
Graham’s 2001 Quinta Dos Malvedo Vintage Port ($65)
A masterpiece that is ready for drinking right now as it has had 16 years of bottle aging, this beverage is a magnificently full-bodied wine with a haunting aroma and expansive flavor. Graham’s 2001 Quinta Dos Malvedo is more an experience that will remain in the memory long after it has finished proving that it rightly deserves its reputation as "king of the hill."
Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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