One In Every Port

#124 – April 25, 2010

The advent of spring usually brings forth a number of newsletters devoted to the glorious wines of summer including fresh flavored Rose wines or crisply refreshing Sauvignon Blanc wines. As global warming slowly envelopes the world in its tentacles, these newsletters have been appearing ever more early in the year as warm weather seems to be descending upon us earlier and earlier. However, given the chilly weather of the last few days and the downpour Manhattan was subjected to over the last 12 hours or so, I craved some brooding comfort last night and popped the cork on one of the only two true kosher Ports available – the non-vintage, Porto Cordovero – which I enjoyed it with some aged cheddar cheese and green apples. The perfect match of wine and weather led to the topic of this week’s edition – Port (and port-style) wines.

Port is a member of the family of fortified wines, of which the two most prominent members are Sherry and Port. Fortified wines are wine to which alcohol is added (thus fortifying the wine). If additional alcohol is added to the wine during the fermentation process, the resulting wine will be sweet; since the addition of the alcohol stops the fermentation process (which converts the grape’s sugar to alcohol) midway and less of the wine’s natural sugars are converted to alcohol, resulting in Port. When the fortifying alcohol is added once the fermentation process is complete, at which point all of the wine’s sugar has already been converted to alcohol, the resulting wine will be dry – giving us sherry.

Port is typically consumed after a meal and is fantastic when slowly sipped and matched brilliantly with strong cheeses like Gorgonzola, aged Cheddar and Gouda. Matching a good Port with a top notch Blue Cheese will change your life forever and provide an experience you will not forget. Some other traditional accompaniments to Port and port-style wines wine are walnuts and apples. While I prefer sipping port as a stand-alone experience, it can match nicely with berry or cherry-based deserts or other rich, chocolately-filled goodness.

True Port is made from many varieties of very foreign-sounding grapes grown in the Douro Valley region of Portugal (including Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesca). Also known as “Porto”, the name comes from Oporto, the city in northwest Portugal from which the wine was originally shipped. Only wine made in the Douro Valley region is deemed true port and will have “Porto” on its label as opposed to the many (and sometimes delicious) port-style wines produced, some of which I have reviewed below.

There are a few styles of Port wine, with the most common being Vintage Port, Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV), Tawny Port and Ruby Port. Vintage Port is Port made from grapes of a chosen spectacular vintage (usually occurring only a couple times a decade) and is barrel aged for two years prior to bottling at which point it continues to develop and mature in the bottle for another 20-40 years. Late Bottled Vintage Port, of which we have now been blessed with a kosher version of, comes from good but not great years, is aged oak barrels for three to five years before bottling, and is soft and are ready to drink young. Tawny Port in the ‘next level down’ and made from a blend of several different vintages, aged for 10-30 years in casks and is lighter and smoother then Vintage Ports. Ruby Port, which is the other true kosher port available, are made from young wines and are sweet, fruity not usually aged. Unfortunately, we have not yet been blessed with a real kosher vintage port, which is obviously the type of Port the satirical Evelyn Waugh was referring to when he said, “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 the philosopher”.

Carmel Vintage, Fortified Petite Sirah, Judean Hills, 2007: While not “true” Port, this wine is a nice alternative to the Porto Cordovero wines reviewed below. Aromas of raisins, plums, chocolate and spices come at you with first sniff but not overly aggressive. On the palate, a rich, deep and very sweet wine with flavors of mocha, coffee, sweet (and slightly tangy) jammy berries with enough acidity and pleasant spiciness to balance the sweetness from becoming overpowering and flabby on the palate. Hints of slightly bitter almonds do a good job of keeping the sweetness honest and the entire wine in good balance. As opposed to the Cordovero wine, I often enjoy this wine with food as it matches nicely with most sweet desserts.

Tzuba, Red Dessert Wine in Port Style: Despite the weird name of this wine and its interesting composition of late harvested Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it is a truly enjoyable wine from a great up-and-coming Israeli boutique winery about whom I have written in the past. With a heady nose bursting with aromas of ripe and jammy cherries, blackberries, spicy oak and tantalizing figs and yummy spice, you almost don’t need to drink this wine to actually appreciate its deliciousness. However that would be a crying shame if you stopped there as the luscious and caressing palate is loaded with sugar and spice and all that is nice including cherries, black forest fruits, figs and hints of raisins and spicy oak leading to a long, spicy finish showing the extra alcohol without being overwhelmingly “hot”.

Porto Cordovero, Fine Ruby Port, n.v.: A joint effort between Royal Wine Company and the highly respected Port lodge of Taylor Fladgate, this wine is a rich, sweet and fruity wine with hints of black fruit along with tantalizing hints of spices, vanilla and caramel. Especially chilled, the 20% alcohol isn’t as noticeable as you might think (primarily due to the delectable sweetness), so take care when drinking. Loads of dark prunes, cherries and hints of tantalizing burnt caramel leading into a long finish with hints of oriental spices. Definitely worth trying and once opened, the bottle will last for 2-3 weeks if kept in a cool place. Even with the introduction of the LBV reviewed below, this remains my favorite Port (at least until a true kosher Vintage Port makes an appearance).

Porto Cordovero, Porto Cordovero, LBV, 2004: Rumors of this wine abounded for quite some time but it was well worth the wait. As a Late Bottled Vintage should be, this wine is deeper, darker and significantly more complex that its younger sister – the Fine Ruby reviewed above. Another joint effort with Taylor Fladgate provided this delicious treat of a wine offering an insight into the wonderful world of “aged port” as this wine will evolve nicely, if not for the more traditional 30 years, for at least some time. Lots of the same aromas and flavors as the ruby including raisins, jammy blackberries, spicy wood, caramel and vanilla but somehow all presenting differently – more maturely- than the prior wine.

Katlav, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dessert Wine, 2006: Another up-and-comer about whom I usually refrain from writing about primarily due to the ridiculously and unwarranted, high-cost of their wines. Lots of rich, ripe and flavorful black cherries, plums and other jammy fruits on both the nose and palate tinged with spice and wood all coming nicely together to create a well made and balanced wine that matches well with dessert. Somehow different that your typical Port wine in both the flavors dominating your palate and the lively finish that lingers.

Tishbi, Barbera-Zinfandel, Dessert Wine, 2006: Another wine showing that you can make a port-style wine from any type of grape, this wine coming from an equal blend of Barbera and Zinfandel. A muscular wine whose abundant sweetness makes this wine for sipping after a meal as opposed to with it. Fruits that are more tangy than jammy including gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries matched by raisins, bitter almond and hints of Crème Brule. Not in the same class as most of the other wines listed but an interesting =wine that make for pleasant side-by-side comparisons.

For Kicks Only
Carmel, Partom, n.v.: Daniel Rogov’s note: “Carmel-Mizrachi’s Partom is a sweet, red, reinforced wine that has been aged in wood casks for ten years. Unfortunately, the winery’s claim that the wine can compete with the best Port wines in the world simply does not stand the test of reality. Unlike really fine Port wines, which are blends several varieties of grapes; Partom is made entirely from Malvasia grapes. What makes this odd is that these grapes, which are sometimes also known as Malmsey, are the major variety used in Madeira and not Port wines. More seriously, however, whereas fine Port wines are rich, smooth, luscious and full of character, the Partom is rather sad in its character, lacking robustness, richness or intensity. Sticky both to the fingers and in the mouth, Partom, whose alcoholic content has been elevated to 18% by the addition of brandy, is best categorized as a stimulating and aggressive rather than a satisfying or complex drink”.