Flirting with a Fortified Wine
By: Robin Salls
Posted: Nov. 30, 2012

[Photo: Vintage 1958 port, made 202 years after its Royal Charter / Credit:]

“Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher.” ~ Evelyn Waugh

A port wine brings to mind roaring fires, decadent chocolate desserts and late nights. A sweet, rich and slightly thicker, red wine (although white and tawny ports are available too) that is best served in smaller stemware. While some suggest a sherry glass or brandy sniffer, I’ve found that port needs a bit more room to breathe to be fully appreciated. I‘d suggest a small wine glass between 6oz-12oz, but only filling it part way. What makes port a fortified wine is the brandy that is added during the fermentation process. If the brandy is added prior to the process, a sweeter wine is the outcome. When added after the fermentation process, a drier port is the outcome. I flirt with the sweeter ports myself, as long as I’ve got a splendid chocolate dessert to accompany it. I’ve found by way of my friends and friends of friends that most seem to have either a love affair with ports or they’ve given port the “Dear John” letter and have moved on. I’m in the early stages of my relationship with port. By no means is a love affair taking place, but port and I are still feeling each other out, trying to decide if we’re a match or not.

I’ve been told I haven’t truly experienced a port until I have one from Portugal where they originated in one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, the Douro Valley in the Northeast corner of the country. I’ve also been told that I haven’t had a vintage port; because once you’ve had a vintage port you’ll drink nothing less. A vintage port is a single vintage estate port of the highest quality during certain years. The grape growing season and conditions are the deciding factors on what warrants a vintage year and is typically decided in late spring of a growing season and gingerly given out by wine experts who cautiously proclaim vintage years. I know I haven’t had a vintage port as I visited the liquor store the other day and found a full range of ports varying in price, origin and age. I’m assuming the old saying; “you get what you pay for” is true for a good port. I actually didn’t realize how many types of ports were available in the market.

[Photo: Port aging in wooden barrels / Credit: eedrummer]

A tawny port is aged in wooden barrels exposed gradually to oxidation and evaporation which results in its golden-brown color and is typically aged for at least two years in those barrels. Then there are white ports that are made with white grapes that generally are suppose to be good as a base for cocktails or if aged, best served chilled on their own. Ruby ports are the most produced type of port and typically the less expensive variety. They are usually stored in concrete or stainless steel tanks to preserve the ruby color they’re known for. There are several more, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m still getting to know all the different faces of port.

For now, I’m going to keep flirting around with ports and find a few that were reviewed here at WineTable to put on my list to try next: Burmester Vintage Port 2000Churchills ‘Quinta Da Agua’ Vintage Port 1992, and Croft Vintage Porto 1994. There’s even a Croft Vintage Porto 1963 that runs around $126 a bottle! That’s surely a bottle worth flirting around with!

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