Holiday entertaining means having people over for drinks and dinner — a perfect excuse to serve up some Port!
This famous wine from the Duoro Valley in Portugal comes in a range of styles and price ranges, but what all have in common is that they are fortified. That means neutral grape spirit (usually referred to as brandy) being added to the still fermenting grape juice, which stops the fermentation (leading to Port’s sweetness) and also raises the alcohol level. Both of these factors are why some Ports can literally age for decades and decades, gaining amazing complexity over time.
My favourites — Vintage Ports — are the longest lasting but can also be the most challenging. They are only made in what are called “declared” years (when most or all of the producers agree conditions are good enough to “declare” a Vintage Port can be made). This tends to happen only a couple of times a decade.
That makes Vintage Ports relatively scarce, producing the second challenge — cost. It’s not uncommon for newly released bottles to be $75+ or more, with prices rising as they age.
And aging is the final challenge, because Vintage Ports don’t usually taste all that great for at least 10 – 15 years. That’s how long it takes the alcohol, sweetness and often considerable tannins to settle down and mellow out. So you either buy them young and cellar them, or wait till they are mature and pay a significant price premium (over 100% of the original price).
With all these challenges, you may be wonder if Vintage Ports are worth the effort? Well, in my opinion, they are. Nowhere else can you find the flavour profile — a mix of chocolate covered grapes and raisins, sweet but not syrupy, with a long, long finish. Fabulous on their own, they also work well with chocolate and — the classic combination — Stilton cheese and walnuts.
And here is a secret for finding some kind of “value” in Vintage Port. Look for what are called “single quinta” Vintage Ports. They are made the same way as Vintage Ports, but usually in non-declared years from specific properties (instead of an overall blend of the best grapes). These tend to be release after they have been in bottle for 5 – 10 years, so are ready to drink (although can also keep for years like Vintage Ports). And they often are available in 375 ml bottles, the perfect size for a dinner party.
For those in B.C., there are two great examples available right now in government specialty liquor stores. The 1998 Quinta do Bomfim by Dow’s and the 2001 Malvedos from Graham’s offer classic old, Vintage Port characteristics for less than $32 a half bottle. Not cheap, by any means, but good value for Vintage Port.
If you want to surprise your guests this holiday season — or just treat yourself — pick up a bottle or two. If you are like me, there will be no going back!