#262 – December 21, 2013
The recent bought of drastically cold weather, snow and sleet in both the US and Israel (20 inches in Jerusalem!) had me seeking the refuge of warmth and comfort all week long so. As I sometimes do, I turned to wine for this and, despite the current (record at least in NY) reprieve from the frigid cold we are experiencing, I wanted to talk about the most brooding and comforting of all grape-based beverages – Port (and so called Port-style) wines. Starting next week I hope to commence my annual year-end newsletter, starting with a review of the wine world in 2013, followed by the best wines I enjoyed in 2013 and finally ending with a peek into the industry’s crystal ball for what is coming down the pipeline in 2014. As always, if you know of others who might enjoy this newsletter please let me know (or have them sign up directly on my website)
Port is fortified wine that is made by adding a neutral, grape-based, spirit to the wine (usually a form of industrial brandy). The introduction of the alcohol to the fermenting must prematurely stops the fermentation process (pursuant to which yeast converts the natural grape sugar into alcohol) which results in a higher percentage of residual sugar and a higher alcohol percentage than a typical wine (as the added spirit raises the alcohol level, more than compensating for the stopped fermentation). The added alcohol “fortifies” the wine giving the family of wine its name which also includes Sherry (in which the spirit is introduced at the end of fermentation resulting in a dry fortified wine (although “sweetness” can be added later to make a sweeter sherry)), Marsala, Vermouth and Madeira). As with the other sweet wines I love and often discuss, this isn’t your grandma’s Malaga, but rather a deep, rich, sweet and complex wine that can be enjoyed with many decadent desserts or even as dessert on its own. The fact that Douro’s yields are amongst the lowest in the world is a contributing factor to the wine’s richness and depth of character.
As with Champagne, Port is a protected designation and, under EU laws, only wine made in the Douro Valley region of Northern Portugal. The region is one of the oldest appellations in the world dating back to 1756. Chianti (1716) and Tokaj (1730) are the only earlier appellations, however they aren’t regulated by a standardized set of regulations the way Douro, Champagne, Napa Valley and others are. While some related terms like “Oporto” and “Porto” are protected world-wide and allowed only on Douro-made wine, under the labeling laws of the United States (and other countries), wine from anywhere in the world can be labeled “port”. Port became popular in the 18th century when trade restrictions between England and France due to the War of Spanish Succession prohibited the importation of French wines. This led English wine merchants to seek wine in Portugal, a nearby, English-speaking country with whom they had good trade relations. The name came into being in the late 17th century and was derived from Oporto, the port-city (no pun intended) city in Northwest Portugal from which most of the wine at that time was exported around Europe.
Port is usually a blended wine made from over a wide variety different varieties of very foreign-sounding grapes and includes both red and white versions, although red Port is far more common. While over 80 different varietals are used in making different port wines, the vast majority are blended from the “big five” – Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz (a/k/a Tempranillo) and Touriga Francesca with port-style wine being made from any number of varieties. However, the majority of vineyards, especially the older ones, contain a mix of grape varietals, often 20-30 different grape varietals co-mingled together. Even the vineyard owners are unsure exactly of which grapes are being grown in each vineyard. Since fermentation is relatively short (due to the introduction of brandy), maceration needs to be as effective as possible.
In general there are two types of Port, separated by the type of aging they undergo – either cask or bottle aging. Wood aged ports are aged in casks (or sometimes cement) and are ready to drink once bottled (after they have been fined and filtered). The more expensive Ports are designed to continue their maturing process in the bottle and are typically bottled without fining or filtration and then spend 20-40 years in the bottle before they are ready to be enjoyed. Within these two primary styles of making Port are numerous different types as follows:
Ruby Port is the simplest and least expensive version. The wine is aged for two to three years and bottled very young while retaining its bright rich color (that gives it its name) and a relatively strong personality. Wines from multiple vintages are aged together and then bottled after fining and filtration. There are two kosher versions of ruby port – Porto Cordovero and Quevedo, both quite nice and well priced. The next level up is Tawny Port which is aged in casks for substantially longer than Ruby until such time as it loses its rich red color and takes on an amber-brown (or tawny) hue (resulting from oxygenation from the wood aging). Much tawny Port sold today hasn’t actually been aged for much longer than Ruby Port, obtaining its distinctive color from lighter grapes, various vinification processes or prolonged heat exposure. This lack of discrepancy has given rise to an additional type of Port called Aged Tawny which require at least seven years of aging but typically carry designations of 10, 20, 30 or 40 years (which are all approximations, as the wine is spread across multiple vintages). These wines are typically made from the highest quality grapes that would have been utilized for vintage year had they been from a “declared year” (see below). Late Bottled Vintage (“LBV) is bottles from a single vintage and bottles between four and six years following harvest. The most common version of LBV port is bottled is fined and sometimes filtered, resulting in a somewhat “stripped down” version of LBV which can be quite delicious in its other, less common versions which include those bottled without filtering or fining which require serious decanting (similar to Vintage Port). There is one kosher LBV on the market, also Porto Cordevero and reviewed below.
Vintage Port is the most expensive type of Port and, ironically the easiest to make. These wines are made from a single and spectacular “declared” vintage (usually occurring only a few times a decade as opposed to many Israeli “special” wines which happen suspiciously often). Only the best grapes, picked at their optimum ripeness make it into Vintage Port. The wines are blended and bottled after only two or three years in wood and then sold to the consumer who is expected to age the wine for 30 years or more until the wine reaches maturity. 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”. Additional types include Colheita, Single-quinta vintage, Crusted Port, Garrafeira and White and Rose Port.
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.
In the world of kosher wine, port-styled wines are far more common than true Port (of which there are only a handful), with many wineries utilizing less than superior grapes to make their versions. The number of Israeli Port-style wines is extremely long and includes (among other and those listed below) Bashan, Carmel, Kinor David, Odem Mountain, Psagot, Shiloh, Teperberg, Tishbi, Tura and Tzuba. As you know, I am a sucker for dessert wines and am always open to trying any type of dessert wine, while usually being disappointed. That said, there are a number of truly delightful Israeli port-styled wines that are well worth seeking out an enjoying in addition to the “true” Port kosher wines available, a number of which are reviewed below. Historically these wines were made from a wide-range of grapes being grown in Israel including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, these days a number of wineries, including Domaine Netofa and the Golan Heights Winery, are experimenting with Port-styled wines made from a few of the Portuguese varietals, which seem to have taken a liking to Israel’s terroir (not an unexpected result given the relative similarity in climate). I have included below tasting notes for a number of these wines I have recently enjoyed and hope you will find them as delightful as I have.
Adir, Port-Style, n.v.: Historically with only a few exceptions, Israeli port-style wine was viewed as somewhat of a cash cow for wineries who would leave their less-than-desirable grapes to “develop” in barrels under the unrelenting Israeli sun then bottle and sell the results as port. While this practice still persists, along with the general increase in the quality of Israel’s wine industry, many wineries are now producing quality port-styled wines that are highly enjoyable. Adir has been producing a port-style wine for a while and recent releases have shown a marked improvement in quality (I like the Blush version reviewed below even better). A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 % Shiraz, the wine spent almost 30 months in French (50%) and American (50%) oak. Plenty of rich, ripe raspberries, plums and cherries with plenty of nice wood and hints of raisins and oriental spices on both the nose and palate. Despite the 18.5% alcohol, the wine remains fresh and lively and was delightful both on its own and as an accompaniment to several desserts.
Adir, Blush Port-Style, 2010: I was introduced to this wine a few years ago by the delightful folks at Avi Ben (who, over 20 years, have rarely steered me wrong) and was delighted to make its acquaintance. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with a clear and gorgeous salmon color, this wine is a bit lighter on the palate than the “regular” port-styled wine reviewed above, with refreshing acidity keeping the jammy fruit, near delicate sweetness and 18.5% alcohol from becoming overpowering. Nice stewed fruit, raisins, warm spices and dark chocolate contribute to a uniquely delicious wine. Sold only in Israel and well worth your efforts to bring back a few bottles. Opened in honor of Ariella’s birth, the wine was consumed over a three-day period and actually improved each day.
Domaine Netofa, Fine Ruby Port, 2010: As Port-styled wines sweep the nation, with more and more wineries jumping on the bandwagon of sweet dessert wines; Netofa launched a 2010 Ruby port with class and elegance. While there remain only three kosher Ports (i.e. made in the Douro region of Portugal) – Royal’s two Porto Cordovero wines and the newly launched Porto Quevedo – both nice), the number of Port-style wines is growing exponentially. A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional (a varietal the kosher world has been seeing more often, including in the Yarden T2 and wines and the Shirah Coalition) and 20% Tinta Roriz (a/k/a Tempranillo) with 20% alcohol, this is a rich, deep and delicious dessert wine, that gets even better after it has been open for a few days. Aged in new French oak for two years, the wine presents with cloves, other warm spices, dates, chocolate, stewed plums, raisins, roasted nuts and with just enough acidity to keep things upbeat and long luscious lingering (say that three times fast) finish. Expect a four-year aged (“Vintage”) port to be released shortly.
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.
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. There is also a 2005 vintage of this wine.
Quevedo, Ruby Port, n.v.: True port, under $20 and delicious, this wine is a YH Best Buy to boot! Made from a blend of typical Portuguese grapes including Touriga Nacional (30%), Touriga Franca (25%), Tinta Roriz (15%), Tinto Cão (5%) and Tinta Barroca (5%) (with the remaining 20% fleshed out with a host of other varietals). Made by a relatively new house founded in 1991, the family has winemaking traditions going back decades. While not a highly sophisticated Port, nor as complex as the Porto Cordovero LBV (2004), it is delicious and was very much enjoyed by the entire table – wine aficionados and “newbies” alike (an easy-drinking Port if you will). Plenty of bright red fruit on both the nose and rich palate with hints of dates, hazelnut, spices, vanilla and crème brûlée with some nice dark chocolate, more spices and ripe currants on the lingering finish. This improves massively over time; so open the bottle a few days before you plan to serve it for best effect.
Yatir, Fortified Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005: Despite having been tasted and reviewed by the late Daniel Rogov, I somehow missed this wine and was surprised to learn of its existence only eight months ago. Given the winery’s reputation, I did however jump at the opportunity and acquired the last six bottles the winery had without first tasting the wine – a rare occurrence for me but one that certainly paid off with the delicious and relatively rare wine. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was fortified with brandy and aged in neutral oak barrels for approximately eight months, the full-bodied wine is simply dark and delicious. Plenty of sweet berries, prunes, hazelnuts, lavender on the slightly oxidized nose with much of the same on the robust and sweet full-bodied palate, where they are joined by dark espresso coffee beans, rich bittersweet chocolate, a hint of smoke and still integrating tannins that lend the wine plenty of power, stability and character, all balanced by plenty of acidity holding the sweetness very much in check. Delightful.
Older Tasting Notes (April 2010)
Carmel, Vintage, Fortified Petite Sirah, Judean Hills, 2007: While not “true” Port, this wine is a nice alternative to the Porto Cordovero wines. 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..
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”.
#262 – December 21, 2013