Sunday, February 01, 2009

Porto - A New Twist

Mid-winter is a great time to rediscover Porto. A glass of this rich, sweet hedonistic wine will warm the insides and make anyone feel better. It is also a great accompaniment to the fuller dishes and desserts that we typically have this time of year. I like Porto with a bit of cheese – current favorites are the selections from Cato Corner Farm found right in Colchester, CT (and at Whole Foods). Porto, like many wine regions, is far more complex than most people expect, but you only need to know a few things to pick the right wine.

Here are three basic tips to remember about Porto:
First, “Porto” comes from Portugal and is the real deal. “Port” or port-style wines, come from anywhere else and can be quite enjoyable, but are not true Porto. Why does this matter? The Duoro region in northern Portugal is the oldest delimited zone of wine production in the world and there are strict requirements for the handling, production and quality of Porto that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world – Porto is special and the traditions should be respected. It is not easy to make Porto.

Second, Porto is a fortified wine, which means that a controlled grape spirit has been added to the wine to arrest ferment, raise alcohol to about 19% and leave varying degrees of Residual Sugar in the wine. Porto packs a punch.

And third, there are two basic categories of Porto – Wood Aged (done in an aerobic state) and Bottle Matured (done in an anaerobic state).

The Tawny Portos all fall into the Wood Aged category, but so do a few other styles. The definition of this category simply refers to the fact that the wine does most of it maturation in cask before going to market. Other wines in this category are going to be the basic Ruby, Reserva and some LBVs. Rubys are aged for about 2 years, Reserva for about 4 years and LBVs go 4-6 years. The LBVs that stay in cask for the full 6 years would be considered Wood Aged as they are bottled and sold for immediate consumption, where the LBVs that spend the minimum in cask have the ability to age further, throw a sediment (or crust) and are not usually ready for immediate consumption; these are called Traditional LBVs.

Bottle Matured Porto include the LBVs listed above, Single Quinta Vintage and Vintage wines. These wines spend a minimum amount of time aging in wood – usually only about two years, and are then transferred to bottle for maturation. In a very good year, a vintage can be declared and these wines can take 20 or more years to be ready for proper drinking. The Single Quinta Vintage wines are an excellent choice for better value and also for really seeing the differences in terroir within the Duoro. All of the other wines are blends of wines from different locations, but the Single Quinta Vintage is made from wines of very special quinta, or farm. They will have flavors that are not muted out by other vineyard’s qualities and as such can be quite interesting to drink. Each Port house will have a quinta that contributes top fruit to their best wines. I have listed a selection below which can be shown together but are all of different styles.

The last thing to recognize about Porto is their versatility with food. In the US, we typically only think of Porto for dessert, but other countries enjoy different styles of Porto before, during and after the meal. Ruby styled Porto will work great with desserts that have chocolate, nuts and dried fruits, while Tawnies go best with pastry, cream and fresher fruit styled desserts. Cheeses are also a natural pair with Porto; experiment and find what suits your taste – it’s not a bad way to spend a cold winter night. --BCM

Here are some Single Quinta Vintage Porto Selections which I recommend:

Croft Quinta da Roeda, 2005 – item #43996 – about $45
Churchill Quinta da Agua Alta, 1995 – about $50
Fonseca Quinta do Panascal, 2005 – about $54
Taylor-Fladgate Quinta Vargelles, 2005 – about $58
Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha, 1989 – about $48

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