A Sweet Relationship With Port
Wednesday - April 02, 2008
I admit that some times I eat too much. You would never be able to tell by looking at me, but I eat a lot! I love food and wine. Whenever there is a tasting menu, I usually opt for the one that has the most choices. Has anyone tried Chef Mavro’s 13 courses yet? I have. I am the proverbial “horse” when it comes to eating. So when I’m too full to have another bite, there is many a liquid dessert I prefer to have instead of something full of fat, sugar and fruit or chocolate. Port is actually one of my favorite ways to end a meal, as I was reminded after tasting through an outstanding collection of Warre’s Port.
Port satisfies many of my dessert requirements. When it is good, it is great. It can be some of the most complex flavors that you will ever experience. It has enough residual sugar to satisfy my sweet tooth. Despite its fortified nature it is also quite a versatile wine at the end of the meal. It pairs well with chocolate desserts, tortes, truffles, decadence and more. It is a fabulous pair with cheeses, especially those of the blue category such as Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola. It is also a great match with a cigar, if you are so inclined. Yet Port is not as widely consumed because it is a fortified wine. This means that it is produced by adding alcohol to the wine to arrest fermentation, thereby leaving residual sugar in the wine (making it sweet) and increasing the alcohol content to 20 percent - which is no longer very far from the big-alcohol wines of today. To most people, Port is something they see as a cooking ingredient rather than a beverage unto itself.
Port has been around for a long time, and Warre’s is the oldest shipper of Port bar none. Warre’s and Co. was established in 1670 - that’s before the Declaration of Independence was penned! You’d think they’ve practiced Port production long enough to know what they’re doing - and I think they’ve got it right. Maybe others would rest on their laurels and enjoy their success. But through the years Warre’s has introduced new technology and created new styles of Port that stand out from all the rest. Some of the grapes are still foot trodden in concrete vats called lagares, but Warre’s has updated most of its equipment with stainless steel or glass-lined tanks that produce a fresher and more consistent product.
They make no less than 13 different styles of Port including white port, which makes a great substitute for rum in a Mojito - just call it a White Portito. But its most well-known Port is Warre’s Warrior Port ($16), and justly so. The wine is a blend of top-quality Port that is matured in wooden casks for a minimum of six years before being bottled, ready to drink. This “everyday” drinking Port exudes the pleas-antries of Port: Bright crushed red- and blackberries gush forth from the glass with a note of cinnamon and nutmeg spices. It is delectably smooth on the palate with balanced sweetness and a flowery finish.
One of the “new” styles of Port that Warre’s has introduced is the 10 Year “Otima” ($25/500ml). Ten-year tawny Ports are not new, but the style of it is. This is made in a more elegant, “winey” style than the “traditional” Sir William 10 year Tawny ($32) with gorgeous walnuts, caramel apple, custard, mocha and dried figs all around. It is particularly plush on the palate, having velvety mature tannins and an almond toffee finish that resounds. And if you want an even bigger thrill, try the 1976 Warre’s Tawny Reserve ($89). This wine will have you grasping for words to describe it. It is - in a word - complete.
I like to serve port lightly chilled, between 70 and 75 degrees, as it helps to round off the alcohol and focus the fruit. And perhaps the best thing about these Ports is that if you can’t finish the bottle, just put it in the fridge and it will last you up to three weeks without deteriorating so much that you won’t want to drink it anymore. It probably won’t last that long anyway.
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