If you have a sweet tooth, and you love wine, you simply must try one of the greatest sweet wines in the world: Port.
Since the 17th century, Port has graced the tables of kings and queens, American Robber-Barons, Russian Czars and wealthy wine collectors. You might find it in smoky parlors, the kind with animal heads mounted on the walls, or even at the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
There is a good reason that the world’s elite and wealthy once coveted Port: in a word, it’s decadent. And with 20% alcohol, it will give you a nice buzz. Everybody loves a good buzz…
The days of Downton Abbey are long gone, but the thirst for this great beverage remains. New wine lovers are now, “returning to Port,” to see what it’s all about. Here’s your chance to experience 400 years of sweet decadence, for yourself!
A Wine is Born
In 1702, Great Britain and France were at war. International trade was halted, and the English suddenly had to find a new source for their fine wine. Enter Portugal.
Although wine from Portugal was great in its own right, shipping it to England proved a new challenge: The long journey by boat was making the fragile wine spoil.
To solve the problem, importers borrowed a trick from Portuguese monks: by adding extra alcohol to the wine, it could be preserved, or “fortified.” A dose of brandy did the trick, rendering a sweet, fiery and complex wine that had an undeniably powerful kick to it.
The Brits loved it. And thus, Port was born.
All true Port begins life in northern Portugal, in the Douro river valley (seen to the right, in green). The grapes are grown on the steep, terraced hills of the valley, as they have been for centuries. Over 80 different grape varieties can be used to make Port wine, and in some vineyards they grow side-by-side, essentially blended ahead, right there in the field.
In the sweltering heat of late summer, Port grapes are harvested by hand, one bucket at a time, and as musicians play traditional Portuguese music, local volunteers dance barefoot on the grapes, for hours. A wine is made, and then fortified with a brandy called aguardiente (literally, “fire water”).
The young Port is transported west, down river, to the small city of Oporto on the coast. Oporto means, “Port,” and this is where the wine gets its name. Oporto was once the launching point for the trade route to England.
The Flavors and Styles of Port
Some of us have probably tried a, “Port Style Wine.” These can be made anywhere in the world, including California, Australia, and yes, even New York. But remember that real Port is made only in Portugal, from Portuguese grapes, brandy, and nothing more.
Ruby Port is red, fruity, young, and bold. No surprise, it’s like a mouthful of cherries flambé – while they’re still lit! It’s a blend of wines from several years, and meant to drink right away. For that reason, there is almost never an age mentioned on the bottle.
Ruby Port is a great entry point into the world of Port, as it’s often the most affordable style.
Tawny Port, often starts life as a Ruby Port, which is aged for longer time periods. True to its name, it is brown, copper or amber in color, and it tastes more of dried fruits: Figs, raisins, prunes and toasted nuts come to mind. There is often an average age mentioned on the bottle, referring to how long it was in the barrel.
Vintage Ports are typically the most expensive, because they are only produced in years where winemakers agree the harvest is exceptional. They have a specific date on the bottle and they can only be made from that year’s harvest. Vintage Ports will age for decades, and it’s traditional in some families to buy a barrel or bottle of Vintage port when a child is born and save it for a special milestone later in life.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
LBV Port is similar to Vintage Port in that it’s made in a specific year, from that year’s harvest. But it is often made from in-between years that don’t quite qualify for Vintage Port. It ages for less time and is often more affordable, but can be a great way to get a taste of a Vintage Port without spending a lot of money.
Deschere’s is happy to bring you two brands of Port:
Real Companhia Velha (Royal Oporto) was founded in 1756 by royal charter. It is the oldest, Portuguese family-owned wine company in Portugal. Likewise, the Delaforce family has been associated with excellent Port wine for over 175 years. These two producers have now partnered together to carry on their respective traditions.
If you’d like to learn more about both wineries, and the passion that goes into making their wines, our Sales Rep Zach Carey made a visit to Real Velha last year and gave us a closer look. Or watch this video to learn more about the passion that goes into their craft.
Royal Oporto Ruby Port – $13.99
Composed by a blend of differently dated Ports, which are rigorously selected and aged in oak vats, resulting in an average of 2 years. A beautiful ruby color and notes of violet characterize it for its youth and freshness. Its ripe red fruit aromas stand out, while on the palate shows a notable smoothness and harmony.
Delaforce Late Bottled Vintage Port 2011 – $17.99
91 Points Wine Spectator, 90+ Wine Advocate
Late Bottled Vintage Ports are only bottled after 4 years aging in oak, which allows the wine time to soften up and makes it ready to drink now. LBV Port is an alternative for vintage port lovers who prefer not to wait for long-term bottle aging.
“Warm fig and blackberry compote flavors lead the way, while licorice, mulling spice and fruitcake notes fill in on the finish. The lingering tarry echo is pleasant.” JM, Wine Spectator
Royal Oporto 10 Year Tawny – $29.99
90 points, Wine Enthusiast
Composed of a blend of harvests which are rigorously selected and aged in premium oak casks for an average age of 10 years. Tawny in color with shades of gold, showing off a magnificent bouquet of dried fruit, spice and a light sweetness. It’s young, yet very complex, the oak aging leaves a woody aftertaste.
Delaforce 20 Year-Old Tawny, ‘Curious & Ancient’ – $47.99
95 Points Decanter, 92 Points Wine Spectator
“This one has intense aromas of burnt coffee, cherry and caramel that follow through to a full-bodied palate, with a sweet molasses aftertaste. A touch of orange marmalade on the nose and palate, with a sweet and suave finish. Should be delicious with chocolate.” — Richard Mayson, Decanter
Royal Oporto 40 Year Tawny – $154.99
95 Points Wine Spectator
The wines blended in this port are actually pressed by foot, just like they have been, since the beginning. Royal Oporto 40 Years is a blend of different Ports, rigorously selected for their quality and aged in the best oak barrels.
“Intense and thick, featuring an array of vibrant ripe citrus, dried fig, toffee and wild herb flavors, accented by notes of mocha and cocoa powder, spiced cherry and cream, with a bright finish of orange peel and caramel.” – Kim Marcus Wine Spectator
Wine Can Be Sweet!
I love helping people learn about wine. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge of confidence and some information. Wine doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and you certainly doesn’t have to follow anyone’s rules. Take a chance on a bottle or two, and follow your instincts.
I hope these suggestions will bring you tons of pleasure, and feel free to reach out to me to share your thoughts and ideas, too!