This week marks our first foray into fortified wines and dessert wines! Port wine comes in an array of styles, some are lighter and dryer, while some are sweeter and aged for prolonged periods of time. Fortified means the fermentation process (the process by which the sugar in the wine grapes is converted into alcohol) is halted by the addition of more alcohol (usually a grape based spirit such as brandy) into the wine. This kills the bacteria that is fermenting the wine which allows the wine to retain the sweetness while increasing the alcohol content. If you purchase a bottle from Europe, by law, it must originate in the Douro region of Portugal. There are American style port wines as well. The most prized style of port is Tawny Port. They are aged for prolonged periods of time, and just as with most wines, the older they are, the greater the price tag. Part of the reason I picked Port for this week’s wine is because despite common thinking, Port Wine is one of the best (and one of the very few wines), that actually pairs very nicely with chocolates! So if you got a box for Valentine’s Day, and miraculously still have some left, most of them will play very nicely with a glass of port (think nuts, dried fruits, and caramel). In a class I once had, someone even made chocolate milkshakes with port wine and they were delicious! If you are curious about Port wine and the Douro and would like to learn more, there’s a great movie on Amazon Prime (included in the membership) named A Year in Port.
So, you might be asking yourself, why do we want to add more alcohol to wine and increase the amount of sugar? England has long been a wine consuming country but shipping wines to England and ensuring they were still viable was an issue in older times. Portugal and England became trading partners in the 14th century and Portugal began shipping wine pretty soon after. The journey between Portugal and England was quite time consuming, and got even more so as better areas for growing vineyards were discovered. By the mid 17th century, preservation was a significant issue, and it became known that the wine lasted much longer when brandy was added. In addition to this, by the mid 18th century, the first vineyards of the Upper Douro Valley were being planted. The Upper Douro is a treacherous river ride up the Douro River, that is still only slightly less risky than working the vineyards on the steep inclines leading down to the river in this region. Once the wines are produced and put into barrels, they make long journeys down the Douro to the town of Oporto, where most Port wines are stored. Then the wines leave from Oporto to their destination. If you happen to be venturing to Portugal, you can take a boat ride up the river and see the region for yourself! (yes, it’s definitely on my bucket list!)
Port is a red wine with styles that include ruby, which is sweet and fruity. Then there’s Late Bottle Vintage (LBV). This is only produced when a crop is so good, the region declares it a vintage. In these years, they only use grapes harvested in that year to produce the wine. They are also sweet and might taste of plums and cherries. Tawny ports are aged for extended periods of time and contain wine from many years in varying percentages. The bottle I am drinking is a 10 year from Costco. This indicates the fruit used to make it is all a minimum of 10 years old. Tawny port has notes of nuts and toffee. The grapes used to make port are all native grapes to Portugal but can consist of upwards of 80 different types. Some of the most common grapes used are touriga nacional, tempranillo, malvasia, and touriga franca.
The wine I picked this week was a Kirkland Signature 10 year Tawny Port. It’s not fancy but it’s a great representation of what tawny port is. When I poured it, it definitely had an aged, tawny color, not the bright or deep ruby colors I am used to with younger wines. When you swirl your glass, you should notice some pretty significant legs considering the high alcohol and sugar contents in this type of wine. It smells of a *good* fruit cake, booze, candied nuts, dried fruits (orange peel, candied pineapple, raisins, dates, prunes), all topped with a bit of caramel sauce. On the palate, it burns like a low alcohol liqueur. It doesn’t have much tannin but what it lacks here, it makes up for in body. Dessert wines can be very deceptive. They are typically high in acid and sugar but the true sugar content is difficult to discern because the acid masks it. This port is no different. It tastes very well balanced rather than like a syrupy dessert wine. A glass of this begs for a beautiful platter of cheeses, nuts, and fruits next to a fireplace.