The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Port Wines

Well, I haven’t blogged in three weeks for two reasons. First, I was traveling. Second, my only daughter got married yesterday and the wedding occupied all of my time. But, as promised previously, tonight I want to talk about Ports.

Well, first off, what in the world is Port? Like champagne, officially Port is a fortified wine produced in a specific region of Douro, Portugal. True Port comes only from Portugal. However, again, similar to champagne, there are varieties of fortified wine from other countries that are called by their style such as a tawny.

Ports are fortified, that is, the fermentation process is stopped an extra alcohol added. Port-type wines have an alcohol content between 19% and 22% by volume in contrast to non-fortified wines which generally run around 14%. The traditional methods call for the addition of grape brandy. The wine is aged in wood barrels where it develops a bouquet that is described as being reminiscent of dried fruit and spices. The aging process also gives it its smoothness. The longer the aging, the smoother the wine, and the more complex the bouquet. There are several types of Port and Port-like wines (Non-Portuguese equivalents) but there are essentially two aging styles: oxidative aging and reductive aging. Ports aged by the oxidative process are matured in wooden barrels with a slight bit of exposure to oxygen. They tend to be more intense and a bit more viscous. Wines aged by a reductive process are sealed in their container and never see oxygen. They tend to be smoother with less tannic character. The following are some of the types of Port:

Ruby Ports are younger wines and, as the name would suggest, have a deep ruby red color. They tend to be fruity in character and are usually aged for 3-5 years in sealed stainless steel containers. Thus, they are aged by the reductive process. They are usually the cheapest of the Ports.

Tawny’s are aged using an oxidative process and as a result vary considerably in character. Tawny Reserve port is aged a minimum of 7 years in wooden barrels. They have a nutty flavor underlying their fruit.

Age Denotations for Ports
For true Ports, the age indicators are 10, 20, 30, and more than 40 years. These are usually Tawny’s blended from different years but with similar characteristics. A 20-year old Tawny Port has the character of a wine that has aged for 20 years.

More Port Craziness
Wines from a single year that have aged for at least seven years. These uniform types are labeled "dated port."

Late Bottled Port (LBV): These are made from a single vineyard, but typically is not good enough to make a true vintage port. The wine is aged in wood for 4 to 6 years before being filtered and bottled. LBVs can be drunk sooner than full vintages. Traditionally, it's gentler and more full-bodied than vintage port wine (of the same year). A very nice LBV is Graham's Late-Bottled Vintage, about $15 a bottle. It’s a purplish colored, full-bodied wine with a taste of dried fruit and raisins, and a sweet, lingering finish.

Vintage Port: Vintage Ports are the kings of Port. They are also the most expensive. They are made from a single harvest of exceptional quality. Vintage port is kept in wooden barrels for two to three years of oxidative aging before it is bottled. Once in the bottle, they are aged for 10 to 50 years.

Aged Tawnys: These are the Ports your most likely to encounter. The older the Port, the smoother and more luscious the wine—and the higher the cost. Here are a couple that I’ve tasted to give you an idea of the price range:

Delaforce “His Eminence’s Choice” 10 year old Tawny: Bouquet of fruit and honey, accented with berries and spices. Smooth, with walnut-like overtones with a heavier taste of alcohol. About $20 a bottle.

Taylor Fladgate 20 year old Tawny: Interesting bouquet with fruit overlayered with scents of cinnamon, anise, and coffee. Very smooth with a long, lingering aftertaste of chocolate and spices. About $50 a bottle.

Graham’s 30 year old Tawny Port: Incredible spicy fruit aroma. It has a slightly drier taste with a rich, viscous texture and a long aftertaste of raisins and caramel. It’s a truly incredible wine. About $90 a bottle.

One of the most famous non-Portugese Port-like wines is Australia’s famous House of Seppelt’s Para vintage Tawny. Each year for the past 30 years, House of Seppelt has released a 100 year old vintage Tawny. Technically it’s not a Port because it’s not from the specially demarcated region in Portugal. But is an exquisite wine with a bouquet of wood, earth, and chocolate and a taste of dark chocolate, toffee, and plum pudding—and it costs over $1,000 Euros a bottle.Now, if you want to taste some of the more expensive Ports, look for a wine bar or restaurant that serves them as flights—one ounce samples of 3 to 4 types. I recently had a flight of the Delaforce, Taylor, and Graham at Legal Seafood in Boston for $14.00. Not bad when you consider how much these run per bottle.

Now it’s time for me to kick back and relax. When it’s your only daughter getting married, you want it to be perfect (it was!) and the amount of work that goes into pulling it off left my wife and I exhausted. But both bride and groom are a happy couple so it was worth it! Time to sit back and enjoy a new wine!


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