Can I share a little secret with you? Hold your newspaper/tablet/laptop a little closer to your ear. Ready?
I’ve about had it with those wimpy, floral rosés, pinot grigios, vinho verdes and all those other wines of summer. Can’t we talk about a wine or two with a little backbone?
Sure, when the trees were budding six months ago, those light-bodied, crisp wines seemed like the perfect tonic for warmer days ahead. Now that I’m contemplating raking those leaves that are starting to hit the deck, let’s not wait any longer for wines full of ample girth and substance.
We could discuss spicy syrahs from the northern Rhône, bold Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignons or the wonderful 2009 Bordeauxs, but I want to go straight to the head of the class for the full-bodied wines of the autumnal equinox (Saturday, 10:49 a.m.). Let us consider the opulent, fortified wines of Oporto, Portugal, otherwise known as Port.
Port and Port-style wines made outside of Portugal are dessert wines. And while I’m mostly opposed to drinking sweet wines without food, I treat Port a little differently. There’s nothing better with a good cigar than a glass or two of inky dark, ruby Port. The intensity of Port (which boasts an alcohol level of about 20 percent) easily handles the robust flavors of the cigar without being too overwhelming like a brandy or a whiskey.
Port also seems to put me into a contemplative state without putting me in coma. It fills the imbiber with comforting warmth that fuels the mind’s eye—just the ticket for a writer whose imagination tank typically runs on fumes.
Many a wine drinker has a jaundiced view of Port. They think it is too strong, too sweet or just plain “Yuck.” They’ve either had insipid cooking “Port,” tried a bottle opened during the Hoover administration or had some other unfortunate encounter. If that’s you, I’m suggesting you give Port another chance.
You can go one of two ways with Port (there is a third option, but we’ll save our discussion of white Port for another season). Ruby Ports come in many styles, but can be recognized by their deep purple color and rich flavors of blackberry, plum, chocolate and coffee. Tawny Ports get their name from their orange-brown color. Tawnies have flavors of brown sugar, golden raisins, dry apricots, toasted walnuts and nutmeg spiciness.
Wineries the world around make wines inspired by the winemakers that line Portugal’s Douro River, upstream from the picturesque cities of Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia. And while standouts exist, it’s best to go to the source for true Port.
Vintage Ports are the most renowned style of ruby Ports and can be significantly north of $100 a bottle. Tawny Ports mostly come in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old formats. Thirty-year and 40-year tawnies can go for more than $200. (The age designation of a Tawny represents the average age of the blended wines in the bottle.)
You don’t have to break the bank, however, to enjoy a glass of Port. House-style rubies such as Graham’s Six Grapes, Fonseca Bin 27 or Dow’s Trademark can go for $20 or less. These producers, and many others, make fine 10-year tawnies that also can be had for less than $20.
Smoking cigars or writing wine columns might not be your thing, but fortunately both styles of Port also go famously well with a variety of foods. I like rubies with anything chocolaty—the gooier, the better. Throw in some raspberries and I’ll follow you anywhere. Tawnies are heaven in a glass with toasted nuts, dried fruits and tart, fresh cheeses. If you want to find religion, try a tawny with crème brûlée.
One last thing, don’t forget to chill your Ports. If you serve these wines at or around 72 degrees, you’ll get the full impact of the alcohol’s heat. Ruby Ports can start the night at around 50 degrees, tawnies chillier yet. And know this: as the sun travels lower and lower across the sky for the next few months, a glass of Port holds all rays of sunshine you’ll need until springtime.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog