Winter in Cleveland means snowy nights at home in front of my fireplace with a small glass of wine and perhaps a truffle or two.
What’s the wine in my glass? A ruby red, late-bottle vintage Port.
Dark, savory and sweet, Port wines are rich in flavor and history. Port became a popular drink in the 18th century when England was battling France and signed a treaty with Portugal to buy its wine. Just one problem: The wine had to be shipped via sea and rarely survived the long journey.
To preserve the wine, the Portuguese added alcohol, which killed the yeast early, leaving extra sweetness behind. Fortifying the alcohol worked, and the technique is still used today.
Much of Port’s richness starts in the vineyard. Grown on the steep, rocky terrain of the Douro Valley, the terraced vineyards are planted on slatelike bedrock that sometimes requires the use of explosives to loosen the rock. Hot summers and severe winters create a harsh environment for the grapes, which translates into concentrated flavors in the glass.
One-of-a-kind native grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa provide tobacco, black plum and spicy aromas.
There are many styles of Port, including ruby, tawny, late-bottle vintage and vintage Port. Ruby Ports are youthful, multivintage blends that are cheerful and ready to drink. Tawny Ports spend more time in the barrel, are lighter in color and often show an indication of age (10 year, 20 year, 30 year) on the label.
Late-bottle vintage Port is made from grapes harvested in a single year and are aged for four to six years in the barrel. Vintage Port uses only the best grapes from a single year and must continue aging in the bottle for 20 years before it is ready to be consumed. Vintage bottles make great newborn gifts, as both wine and baby will reach the proper age at the same time.
At first glance, sipping Port after dinner might conjure dated images of pre-television fireside chats, but falling outdoor temperatures and the wine’s balance with chocolate makes Port a perfectly modern choice to pair with that last piece of holiday fudge.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by her tasting consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
Fonseca Bin No. 27 Ruby Port ($18): Bright red with blackberry, plum, sweet spice and dried fruits. Soft, ripe tannins and just enough acidity to keep your palate refreshed. Think flourless chocolate cake.
Croft Distinction Ruby Port ($15): Ruby red with a ripe, jammy nose of raisins, black plums and black fruits. Ripe tannins and mouth-warming alcohol create a long, lingering finish. Perfect for dark chocolate.
Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Port ($21): Richly colored with raspberry, plum, figs and spice. Soft tannins melt in your mouth like bittersweet chocolate. Long finish makes it perfect to sip alone.
Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny Port ($30):Tawny hue with dried red currant, raisins and nuts. On the palate, the wine is mellow and rich with refreshing acidity. Try with crème brûlée.
2000 Fonseca Late-Bottle Vintage Port ($25):Ruby red with intense blackberry, black cherry, baking spice, sweet herbs and plum. Lush, silky texture on the palate. Drink with nuts and a bit of blue cheese.
2000 Croft Vintage Port ($80): Deep red with rich aromas of black fruit, jammy fruit, spice, dark chocolate, rose petal and tobacco. The wine has big, firm tannins that require more time in the bottle to soften. Pair it with dark chocolate truffles for a perfect match.