With Christmas less than a week away, likely many are in panic mode struggling to complete last-minute shopping. A special bottle of wine is always a good idea. I would place a bottle of Port in that special category.
For those who may be Port challenged, Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. It is more potent than your standard bottle of Kendall Jackson, because when grapes for Port have been in vat fermenting for only a few days, a strong dose of grape brandy is added to them. This stops fermentation before the yeast eats up all the sugar in the grape juice, resulting in a vibrant red, sweet but potent wine.
Although this wine is produced in the Douro Valley in Portugal, we have the British to thank for this elixir of the gods. Most major Port houses still have ties to Great Britain, and there is a reason for this.
In 1678, the British and French were once again at war. The British blockaded French ports, causing a shortage of French wine. The Brits turned to Portugal to supply their red wines, but Portuguese wines at the time were rough and unrefined and often spoiled on the long journey from Portugal to England.
It is unknown whether the British or the Portuguese hit upon adding buckets of brandy to these rough red wines, but in doing so the resulting wine did not spoil in shipping. These fortified sweet wines became much prized by the British elite, and a fortified wine trade flourished that continues to this day.
Non-fortified wines average 12 percent to 15 percent alcohol by volume. Port can reach 20 percent to 25 percent by volume. Therefore, this is not a quaffing wine but one to be enjoyed in small amounts, either after dinner or as a late afternoon tipple with a nugget of Stilton cheese and a slice of pear.
One of the first 20th-century wine writers, the late British journalist Evelyn Waugh, wrote, “Port is not for the very young, the vain, and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and philosopher.”
Such sentiment in part may contribute to Port’s decline in popularity over the years. The rising price of Vintage Port also likely discourages novice Port consumers.
Most Ports are blends from different grapes and different years. These do not carry a vintage year. But in some instances — left entirely to the producer to determine — fruit will be exceptional and the producer will declare a vintage year.
If a bottle of Port carries a year on its label, then all of the fruit from that wine must come from the year of the declared vintage. It is not unusual for Vintage Ports to age a decade in bottle before release. They are known for their longevity, and those from exceptional vintages are costly upon release.
The most common Ports found locally are Ruby Ports. These are generally blends of young wines from several different years that see little if any bottle aging. They are bottled straight from tanks or barrels where the wines have resided for two to three years.
Tawny Port is the third major category of Port. The major difference between Tawny and Ruby is that Tawny sees time in wooden barrels. These Ports are left in barrel until they lose their ruby color and take on caramel, nutty flavors.
It should be noted that in recent years there has been a trend to not show any indication as to the type of Port on the label. Many Port houses opt for proprietary names, like my favorite, Graham’s Six Grapes Porto.
Unless buying Port for a large gathering, I would opt for a 375 ml bottle as opposed to a standard 750 ml bottle. Port is rich and best consumed in a small wine glass, with a 2.5- to 3-ounce pour.
Once considered a beverage for affluent old men who retired to the library after dinner for a glass and a cigar, Port has gone mainstream and is readily available to both men and women in most wine outlets. Just make sure you buy only Port made in Portugal.
Consider Graham’s Six Grapes, available at Tyson’s Fine Wine and Things in Anniston ($15.75 for 375 ml, $27.75 for 750 ml or Warre’s Port Finest Reserve Warrior or Fonseca Bin 27, both at Publix in the $20 range.
Don’t worry if all of the Port is not consumed in one sitting. Just recap it and leave in the fridge for up to two to three weeks.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.