Thursday, December 22, 2011

Exploring Port Wines For the Holidays

As the leaves change color in the vineyards, the temperature drops and the air takes on a crisp, snappy feel, we know it's fall. Like it or not, the holidays are upon us, surely to contain excess food and drink, office parties, over-shopping, wine club shipments, and ballooning credit card balances. Each of these events carries with it a certain amount of stress upon we humans, sometimes the stress is good and sometimes it's bad. I'm writing this blog post to share what I consider a nice remedy to that holiday-induced stress.

Port wine, something of a favorite tipple in my household. Many people (myself included) consume Port year-round, so let's pat ourselves on the back for a moment. "The Holidays" provide a perfect excuse to explore Port, to drink more Port, and to share our affinity with our friends and even..just maybe..our family.

And so it goes, I was sent three bottles of Port, the real kind (hint: from Portugal) to sample. Another bottle of "port" comes from California, and I should call it port-style wine, a truer description. That bottle was contributed by my good friend Dan of Wine is Serious Business fame. As a quick shout-out, Dan and Chas do one of the most entertaining, authentic video wine blogs out there, period.

I was sent bottles of Fonseca Bin 27, Taylor Fladgate LBV 2005, and Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny to taste. The California Port-style wine was a bottle of Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port. The first three are wines made from well established producers in Portugal, and very easy to find on retailers shelves. The Terra d'Oro is available through the winery website and it looks like they can ship most places.

Before I get into the tasting notes on each of these fortified wines, let's go through a very brief Port primer, to better understand what I'll be talking about. Hopefully after the primer, you'll be able to place these wines into proper context.

Port can be made with 48 (WOW) different grape varieties but five are considered the best and most widely used: Touriga National, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. The Douro river is considered the source of the best Port grapes.

Port wines can be divided into two main styles: Ruby and Tawny. Most Ports are blended wines from various years with the aim of producing a consistent house style. Ruby ports are often dark purple in color with rich fruity and spicy overtones, and a sweet character. Tawny Ports are amber in color with flavors of toffee, dried fruits and nuts. More complex (and expensive) Tawny Ports have an indication of age on the bottle: 10, 20, even 40-year old Tawny. Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV Ports spend between four to six years in oak prior to bottling, softening the acid and tannin which then allows them to be consumed at a younger age. They combine the mellow flavors of a Tawny Port while retaining the fruitiness of a Ruby.

Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port NV: Right away I was picking up zinfandel notes. Plum, black pepper, raisin, and cherry preserve all waft out of the glass. The unmistakable scent of alcohol was there too, something I tend to pick up in all but the oldest, most expensive vintage Ports. On the palate the Terra d'Oro is smooth and rich, with a sweet, candied nut flavor to go with the grapey component. For about $12 per 375ml bottle, it's a really good deal. I think my friend Chas made a great point when he said it's close to a regular zinfandel bottling, lighter than a typical syrupy Port.

Fonseca Bin No. 27 Porto: Next up is a ruby Port, the real deal. Fonseca has been making Port wines for a long time and this is their entry-level bottling. True to it's nature, the nose has cherry preserve, brandy, hints of dark chocolate and earth. I think for a $15-$20 bottle of Port, this is very approachable. I tasted more of the sweet cherry, oak, dark chocolate, and earth along with a little bit of acidity that helped liven up the wine. It wasn't my favorite of the tasting and is more for people who do like sweeter wines. This is a good introduction to Port wines and is equally at home on its own or with a chocolate sampler.

Taylor Fladgate Late Bottle Vintage 2005 Porto: This LBV smelled great to me, lots of nutty aromas mixed with oak, red and black fruit, and some spice mix going on too. One thing about Late Bottled Vintage Port that I always enjoy is the way that a lot of what I smell carries over onto the palate. The Taylor Fladgate LBV tastes a lot like it smells with regards to the oak and spices mixed with berry flavors. My initial taste was of oak and fruit and that quickly gave way to a tannin and woodsy mid-palate, ending with a bit of heat from the alcohol. When you do drink Ports though, it's important to remember that they're higher in alcohol and you probably will feel both the burn of the ethanol, and if you're not careful, the effects too. That is one of the reasons Port is not served in the same quantities as unfortified wine. At around $24, it's a great value that I highly recommend.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Porto: The final Port was this 20 year old Tawny, meaning that the average age of the wine inside is 20 years, not that it was made 20 years ago. There could be equal parts 30 year and 10 year Ports, respectively. When Port starts to age, it truly turns into a magnificent beverage. The bouquet is lovely, with whiffs of cherry and toasted nuts, warm oak, and hints of cigar box. Warm and rich on the palate, there's a subtle earth note along with a beautiful mix of toasted almond and cherry preserves. I love the balance and integration of the flavors, there's no sense of a beginning or end to each specific aroma, everything seamlessly flows together. At $35-40 a bottle it's a bit pricier but also showcases what makes Port wine so excellent.

Hopefully you've now got an idea of the different styles of Port and what makes it so delicious. The Center for Wine Origins is working to promote awareness that real Port only comes from Portugal, and that is a message this blog supports. January 27th, 2012 is Port Day,and there will be tastings all over the country. If you're on Twitter, you can use the hashtag "#PortDay" to connect with other wine lovers taking part. If you've ever been curious about Port wines, this is a day to use to your advantage.

The Port wines in this blog were all media samples.

Beau Carufel


  1. Love how many versions of "port"-like wine are appearing around the world. Not sure what else they could be calledd though. Chicken tacos and port? I'm guessing the spicy and sweetness worked nicely off each other.

  2. You're right, the spice and sweet flavors worked very well together. I was pleased to find this out..I figured a sweet riesling would pair well but wasn't so sure about the Port.

    As far as what to call them, my best guess is to just say they're "Port-style" or "fortified wine"..something along those lines.