For many, Christmas and Port wine are inextricably linked. A bottle of Port is a must for any wine lover’s Christmas season celebration checklist. I cannot imagine the holiday without a glass of this special wine.
Port wine takes its name from the city of Oporto, Portugal, the only location in the world able to boast the prestigious Port label. Oddly enough, the growing region of Portugal’s Douro Valley is one of the most inhospitable areas of viticulture in the world, with baking-hot summers averaging 100 degrees and subzero weather in winter. Its isolated landscape is just as uninviting, with steep hillsides, poor, dry soils and archaic-looking planting terraces. Yet, in spite of the extreme temperatures and poor terrain, the Port grapes thrive.
Port is made mainly from five authorized varieties, with Touriga Nacional (too-REE-gah na-SHUN-al) being the lead grape in the blend. This grape adds tannin and black-currant aromas. The other grapes offer their own unique attributes: Tinta Roriz gives spice; Touriga Francesa adds softness; Tinta Barraco contributes high sugar; and Tinta Cao provides bold flavor.
As much as the terroir affects the final product, the process used in making Port is also key. Just after harvest, a celebration of sorts begins with the traditional foot-treading in open-trough wine vats by families and workers of the wineries. They march, walk and dance in keeping with this winemaking tradition. This may seem a bit awkward and unappetizing, but the human foot is perfect for the task because it won’t break the pit in the grape.
Port styles range from crusted and ruby to tawny, blended from wines of different vintages made in different years and having spent time in wooden barrels; these styles are ready to drink immediately after bottling. Other styles are late-bottled vintages aged in wood and also ready to drink. Vintage and single Quinta Ports differ in that they spend minimal time in wooden barrels before being bottled for the long, slow aging process.
- Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal (about $40 retail)
- 2003 Churchill Vintage Port, Portugal (about $100 retail)
Port is a must during the holiday season and mine is not complete without a celebratory glass of this liquid masterpiece. Port wine is misjudged, it should be admired.
This rich fortified wine — made in the Douro Valley of Portugal — is often underappreciated and misunderstood. Images of British gentlemen in high-back leather chairs speaking of the Queen while sipping port and smoking cigars might be responsible for some of this misunderstanding. But in reality, port is far from stuffy nor is it always sweet (another misconception about port).
One might even call it an (almost) any occasion wine. It can be served during the most trendy or the most traditional of occasions. Chilled white port makes an unexpected aperitif. Tawny port is at home with dessert and, of course, vintage port is the pinnacle of choice for port fans.
Some of the misunderstanding comes from the many styles. Port really has many tastes: young, fruity, and intense; or old, nutty, and complex.
White and ruby ports are young and will have a lighter style compared to others. Aged Tawny showcases the aromas and taste of almonds with an unforgettable rich intensity. LBV (late-bottled vintage) is a classic reliable port from a single vintage but ready to drink and a fraction of the price compared to the crowning glory vintage port.
Ports have a unique viticulture and winemaking story. The growing region of the Douro Valley is one of the most inhospitable areas of viticulture in the world with baking-hot summers and freezing-cold winters. The isolated landscape is just as uninviting with its steep hillsides, poor, dry soils and archaic-looking planting terraces. In spite of the weather conditions and poor terrain, port grapes thrive there. Port is made mainly from five authorized varieties with Touriga Nacional (too-REE-gah na-SHUN-al) being the lead grape in the blend.
It could be the winemaking process that is the most unique part of port’s story. Just after harvest a celebration of sorts begins with the traditional foot-treading in open-trough wine vats by families and workers of the wineries. They march, walk and even dance in keeping with this winemaking tradition. (This may seem a bit awkward to envision but the human foot is perfect for the task.)
The best way to determine your taste for port is to try a few when you are dining in restaurants offering a selection of port styles. Order a glass of ruby and tawny ports and taste them side by side for comparison. It can be an expensive way to explore and learn your favorite taste profile, but it’s less expensive than buying whole bottles at the liquor store.
Adding to port’s significance during the holidays is it makes an ideal gift for the wine lover. The latest vintage port releases are 2007 and 2011. Check with your favorite wine retailer for availability. You will most likely see the cost well over $100 for a bottle but it’s worth the investment. But keep in mind vintage ports will need at least 15 to 20 years of cellaring before they will really show off their magnificence; the reward is well worth the wait.
- 2010 LBV Taylor Fladgate Port, Portugal (about $26 retail)
- 2007 Fonseca Vintage Port, Portugal (about $130 retail)