Picture yourself in a cozy holiday scene nestled deeply into a commodious easy chair. Fireplace ablaze. Friends and family gathered ’round. On a small table beside you, dishes of walnuts, dried fruits, chunks of bittersweet chocolate and aged hard cheeses. And a bottle of port wine.
Bliss. Some even call port “adult candy.”
The rich, red wine is a pleasure little appreciated by most Americans. But to me, there’s no finer treat.
What is port? It’s a super-aromatic, intensely sweet, sometimes even viscous wine, potent, with up to 20 percent alcohol. Taken in small quantities, it’s the epitome of hedonism.
Port starts out like any other red wine, with yeast fermenting the grapes’ natural sugars into alcohol. But partway through the process the wine is fortified with grape brandy, greatly pumping up the alcohol level and stopping the fermentation before all the sugar is used up. It’s made in several styles:
Ruby port: This wine is aged for two years in big oak vats, then bottled for immediate drinking. It is fresh, young, very fruity and crisp.
Late bottled vintage port: The best grapes from a good year are made into port, aged in oak casks for four to six years, then bottled, ready to drink. It is mellower than ruby port.
Vintage port: Made only in top years, usually three or four times a decade. It’s aged in wood for only 20 months, then bottled for long aging, becoming complex, powerful and rich – the most prized and most expensive.
Reserve port: This is made with grapes from top vineyards, often aged in oak for two years, then bottled, for immediate drinking in an attempt to echo the quality of vintage ports in younger, less expensive wines.
White port: Made of white grapes, it is aged in oak vats for about three years, producing a rich, white, smooth, honey-flavored port. Portuguese fans drink it casually, even over ice.
Port fans drink its various styles with dessert, after dessert or even in place of dessert. Because of its sweetness, it goes well with salty cheeses like feta, aged Gouda or blue cheese. It also goes well with semi-hard cheeses.
▪ 2011 Croft Vintage Porto, Quinta da Roeda, Portugal: powerful, rich and spicy, with flavors of black plums and cloves, full body, long sweet finish; $93.
▪ 2008 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal: dark ruby hue, intensely fruity, complex, with flavors of blackberries, plums and espresso, very smooth, long finish; $25.
▪ Nonvintage Graham’s Six Grapes “Old Vines” Special Edition Porto, Portugal: dark purple hue, rich and crisp, with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and anise, smooth finish; $42.
▪ Nonvintage Fonseca Ruby Porto, “Bin No. 27,” Portugal: dark ruby hue, intensely fruity, aromas and flavors of sweet black cherries, black raspberries and cloves, medium body, smooth finish, ready to drink; $21.
▪ Nonvintage Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal: amber hue, light body but complex, with aromas and flavors of raisins, peaches and spice, smooth finish, ready to drink; $55.
▪ Nonvintage Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port, Portugal: deep red hue, aromas and flavors of ripe black cherries and bittersweet chocolate, full body, rich finish; $22.
▪ Nonvintage Ramos Pinto Ruby Fine Port, Portugal: bright ruby hue, aromas and flavors of black plums and coffee, rich and crisp, with soft tannins; $19.
▪ Nonvintage Dow’s Fine Ruby Port, Portugal: bright ruby hue, intense flavors of red raspberry and chocolate, lively and crisp; $14.
▪ Nonvintage Borges White Port, Portugal: golden hue, crisp and sweet, honey and hazelnut aromas; $16.