Let’s face it – Port has an image problem. If you’re on the greener side of 50, you’re probably thinking – that’s what old people drink! Well, maybe, but why let our parents have all the fun! Port has an amazing history of producing uber quality wine – it’s a crime against drinking to ignore it any longer. It’s also bloody versatile, and if you ask me, it’s time for a revival.
First, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way, then I’ll give you lots of tips on how to include it in your hipster living ways.
What is Port (I’m keeping it reallllly simple here)
Port is a sweet wine that comes from Portugal’s Douro Valley; it’s a spectacularly beautiful wine region and a perfect holiday destination. Fly to Porto, drive two hours, and then bang, you’re there!! I went there recently as a guest of Taylors, Croft and Fonseca, where I got to experience everything first hand – I even foot stomped grapes while doing the chicken dance!
Port is a fortified wine made from red grapes that are mostly native to Portugal. I could list their names, but that would be bloody boring because there are a gazillion varieties used, all with names I can’t pronounce! The grapes are picked super ripe and fermented into wine, and just before all the sugars are turned into alcohol, a grape spirit is added to the blend which effectively stops the wine fermenting. A sweet wine with slightly higher alcohol percentage is left as a result (usually 18-20% a/v)
Phew, that’s the boring bits out of the way.
How to get your Port on
You can either
- drink it straight
- go crazy and drink it in cocktails
- or add it to your foods
Drinking it straight
And by straight, I mean serving top quality Port in a glass, straight up, not chilled. While you can drink it by itself, I recommend always drinking it with food, especially full flavoured cheese and chocolate (not together of course, that’s just weird). There’s a rule when matching sweet food with sweet wine; always make sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert – otherwise it will taste thin in comparison. This is why botrytis affected dessert wines are terrible when teamed with chocolate based deserts. Chocolate is one of the densest, sweetest of all sweet thing – fortified wines always work best.
Ports to drink straight
Vintage Port – considered the pinnacle of Port production: grapes are sourced from one year (and only if it’s an exceptional vintage) and from the best vineyards an estate can lay its hands on. It’s bottled after 2 years of oak maturation, before the wine has had a chance to mellow its strong tannins. That’s why these special wines need up to 20 years of bottle age to achieve a Port-like nirvana! Fortunately most Port producers will do the aging for you – but you will have to pay handsomely! Expect concentrated ripe berry fruit flavours that develop heavenly bottle aged characters the older they get.
RECOMMENDATION: Taylors Single Harvest Port 1966 (it’s better than the 1967!)
RECOMMENDATION: Taylors 1985 Port
RECOMMENDATION: Fonseca 1985 Port
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports – single vintage wines (from unexceptional years) that are aged in very large oak vats for up to six years. No need to age these suckers. Just drink! You can also buy Ports from exceptional single vineyards from these less than perfect vintages. These wines are just as coveted as Vintage Ports, and offer much greater value.
RECOMMENDATION: Taylors Quinta de Vargellas 2002 Port
RECOMMENDATION: Croft Quinta da Roeda 2002 Port
Tawny Ports – these babies are usually a blend of several vintages and aged for very long periods in oak casks -10, 20, 30 or even 40 years! Expect aromas of nuts, butterscotch and oak.
RECOMMENDATION: Taylors 30 Year Old Tawny Port
RECOMMENDATION: Fonseca Aged 20 Year Old Tawny Port
For me, this is the most exciting and versatile way Port is now being served. Whatever you do, don’t serve these cocktails in mason jars, friends NEVER let friends serve cocktails in mason jars! They now sell them in Kmart – it’s over!
The drink you should be chugging back this/next summer is White Port and Tonic. Pour equal parts of each over ice and toss in some mint. This will be YOUR drink for summer. Trust me.
Or you can serve Ruby Port over ice with a pink grapefruit wedge.
Another simple cocktail is called Port Lemonade – 1/2 part Ruby Port, 1 1/2 parts vodka citron, 2 parts lemonade, build this over Ice cubes in a tall glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
For more cocktail suggestions, check this great website out.
Ports to use in cocktails
White Port – if you haven’t figured it out already, this is made from white grape varieties. It is golden coloured and varies from off-dry to sweet. It’s also great value and is best drunk immediately.
RECOMMENDATION: Taylors Chip Dry White Port
RECOMMENDATION: Fonseca Siroco White Port
Ruby Port – a blend of several different vintages, which are aged in oak barrels for three years. These are generally the bargain Ports in your bottle shops. They’re fruit driven, uncomplicated and fun.
RECOMMENDATION: Croft Pink Port
RECOMMENDATION: Fonseca Terra Prima Organic Reserve Port
Cooking with port
You know those red wine reduction sauces you serve with beef dishes – forget the red wine, use port and amplify the flavour 10 fold!
Pour Port over vanilla bean ice cream – why hasn’t Ben and Jerry’s made this yet?!