Thursday, December 2, 2010



The onset of cold weather makes many wine lovers turn their attention to Port wine.  You may know Port only as something to "take the chill off," so here's a little bit of information about Port wines.

Port is a sweet wine, with an alcohol content higher than most table wines, higher even than many dessert wines.  Port is commonly used as a dessert companion or dessert itself.  It pairs quite well with cheese, especially blue cheese.

The only place Port, or Porto, can be made is in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, much like Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.  There are many areas around the world which produce Port-style wines, though.

Port is produced by fortifying wine with neutral grape spirits.  It's often said that Port is fortified with brandy.  That is often a mistaken notion.  The fortification creates a higher residual sugar and alcohol level.  Port wine generally has an alcohol level of 18% to 20%.

There are five grape varieties which are widely used in the making of red Port wine - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Roriz, which is also known as Tempranillo.  That's the only non-indigenous grape used in making Port.

White Port is made from white grapes - Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  Grapes used in making Port are regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto.  Port wine made in other areas may be made from many different grape varieties.

Tawny Ports are Ports which have been aged in wood barrels for ten, 20, 30 or even 40 years.  Popular brands of Tawny Port include Dow's, Graham's and Taylor's, which are seen on many restaurant menus.

Roxo Port Cellars of Paso Robles, California makes nothing but Port-style wines.  They utilize Bordeaux and Italian grape varieties as well as traditional Portuguese varieties.

Ficklin Vineyards in Madera, California makes a Tinta Port, a Tawny Port, a white Port and vintage Ports.  Their Port-style wines have won numerous awards and generate tons of good press.

The Beaulieu Vineyard Maestro Collection Port 2006 employs traditional and non-traditional varieties: Touriga Nacional, Charbono, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.

From California's Santa Ynez Valley, Bridlewood offers a Syrah Port 2006.  Listen to these descriptive words from the the winemaker: "heady aromatics of blackberry, cassis and licorice…notes of strong dark chocolate with hints of pecan, tangerine peel and earth…luscious licorice finish."

Paso Robles' EOSZinfandel Port 2006 sounds like it was made with the holidays in mind:"...aromas of molasses, roasted walnuts and maple syrup fill the nose....nutty characters glide across the palate with essence of plums andespresso...spiciness, cedar, and cinnamon linger on the ... extendedfinish."

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