Time for a good winter warmer
by Anna Ward
Port wine, the perfect winter weather antidote, could be a great addition to your next bonfire or potluck. Often underappreciated, Port might remind you of men with mustaches sitting back heavy in leather chairs smoking cigars. But in reality, Port can be enjoyed in any setting; the beach, camp fire or snuggled on the couch. It is a wine that truly warms you up on cold winter nights.
The wine region in Portugal, hugging the river Douro is, “not the most beautiful, but unquestionably the most stunning,” describes Dan Carbon from Edgartown, and former Head of Marketing for Symington Family Estates in Portugal. The Douro is the largest mountainous wine region on Earth. Grapevines endure the harshest of climates in the Douro which can range from steaming hot to severe frosts in the winter, and the vines have to bury deep for water and nutrients.
Port is made from over 25 varieties of grapes each with different attributes that add to the wine such as color, alcohol level and tannin.
What makes Port unique from other wines in the world is the addition of brandy during the fermentation process, which kills the yeast before all the sugar is converted into alcohol, giving it a sweeter taste and higher alcohol content than most other wines.
There are two main styles of Port–bottle aged and barrel aged. The bottled aged wines are created to age in the bottle, and can last for over 100 years. The barrel aged Ports spend more time in the barrel depending on the style of wine. They are bottled ready to drink and are not designed to age further.
Ruby Port ages in large wooden vats for two to three years. Because of the short time aging and the minimal wood contact the wine is very rich and ripe with fresh fruit flavors.
Tawny Port spends more time in wood than a Ruby, and has a nutty and fruity quality because of its longer contact with wood. Tawny’s can also have an age classifications: 10, 20, 30 or 40. A common misunderstanding is that the number on the front of the bottle indicates the number of years it has been aging. Instead it is a blend of many ages from different years and barrels to make up the final average age.
Dan’s insider advice: a 10 and 20-year differ enormously. Between the two, the 20-year “metamorphoses,” from the 10-year, while the 30 and 40-year are “truly magical. Think about it, a 40-year Tawny needs to have wines in it from over a hundred years old.” A 20-year is a bang for the buck.
Late Bottle Vintage Ports have been aged in large oak barrels for six years. The basic rule for LBV is that the youngest is the best. So if you see a 2003 and a 2006, go with the 2006.
Vintage Ports are some of the finest and longest lived wines in the world. They are often undrinkable for the first 20 years because they are bottled after two years of barrel aging and are extremely rich and tannic. Only the very best, hand picked, twice sorted grapes are used and even then, only two percent of the barrels are chosen. They are incredibly complex wines with layers of flavors still developing even after the wine is swallowed. Port belongs to that elite group, often surpassing year 100 with an easy stride.
We may not have cigars and leather couches, but imagine a crackling fire, cool air, and a warm wool blanket. Port has a romanticism that other wines lack. It adds an element of warmth, coziness, and comfort you didn’t even know was missing.