Last fall I wrote a column reporting that studies show the average American had broken all of his or her New Year’s resolutions before the end of summer. It’s because the average resolution was something difficult – losing weight, calling your mother, being nicer to children, dogs and politicians and such.
This year, why not make a resolution that you can keep because it’s fun? Recite after me: “I hereby resolve to get out of my cabernet/chardonnay rut and expand my palate into wines I’ve rarely if ever tasted before.” Here are three wine styles to consider:
▪ Nonvintage Warre’s Otima 10-Year-Old Tawny Port: tawny hue, mellow, rich and sweet, with aromas and flavors of dried fruits and nuts and lively acids; $26.
Port is a sweet dessert wine, fortified with brandy up to 17 to 20 percent alcohol. It has flavors from sweet black cherries to toasted nuts to dried fruit to spice. It’s a great aperitif or after dinner with apple tarts, pumpkin pie, cheeses from hard cheddar to funky blue, even foie gras and chocolate brownies. It comes in several styles: inexpensive ruby port drunk young with sweet, intense fruit flavors to august, expensive vintage port aged 10 to 50 years or longer with flavors including marzipan, tea, spice, smoke and dried fruit.
Described here is Warre’s Tawny Port, aged in oak barrels to mellow and take on its tawny hue.
Port is made from traditional Portuguese grapes with names like touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca, tinta roriz and tinta cao. At first it’s fermented like most wines, treated with yeast, which turns its natural grape sugars into alcohol. But halfway through the fermentation it is dosed with high-alcohol grape brandy, which kills the yeast and produces a very sweet wine with 17 to 20 percent alcohol.
Then it might be bottled and sold young as exuberant ruby port, or aged in oak casks to make mellow tawny port, or aged for many years in bottles to make vintage port.
CHIANTI CLASSICO WINE
Chianti wines, once the simple quaff in the straw-covered flasks, today have matured into concentrated, opulent drinks that are America’s favorite Italian wines – selling from $10 to $50 or more. They come from the rolling hills and castles of the Chianti region in Tuscany, not far from Florence. The wines are divided into Chianti, Chianti Classico Riserva and other categories, the Riservas coming from the region’s better vineyards. Chiantis are dry and fairly tannic, with flavors of sweet black cherries, tobacco, sometimes even balsamic vinegar and smoke. They’re excellent with roasted red meat, wild game, aged cheeses, dishes with rich sauces, pizza, pasta with red sauces, almost anything Italian. Chianti Classico Riserva is made by stricter quality rules from Chianti. Permitted grape varieties today are 75 percent to 100 percent sangiovese, 10 percent canaiolo, 20 percent other red varieties including cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. White grapes, once used, are now prohibited. The wines must be aged at least two years before release.
▪ 2009 Feudo Arancio Hekate Vino Passito di Pantelleria White Wine, Sicilia IGT, Sicily, Italy; (chardonnay, muscat blanc, viognier and other grapes, 12.5 percent alcohol): dark golden hue, sweet but not heavy, opulent and concentrated, with crisp, lively acids, intense aromas of tropical fruit and flavors of honey, cream, ripe peaches and dried fruits; $30.
Passito wines are sweet, concentrated, opulent dessert wines, both red and white, made from grapes that are picked, laid out on straw mats in the hot sun or in airy rooms for weeks to desiccate almost into raisins, thus concentrating the grapes sugars and acids. They go well with fruit tarts, nuts, spicy foods, soft cheeses.
Legend says Giacomo Casanova offered glasses of passito wine to women he meant to seduce.