Review, Wine Tasting

Let’s Talk About Port, Baby…

Let’s talk about port, baby…let’s talk about you and me…let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…okay, you get the picture. Of course, the more inappropriate version of that song by Salt-N-Pepa is running on a loop through my head, but that’s for another time and place. Instead, I’m here to talk about port…that deliciously rich chocolatey berry wine that makes me swoon. I find a good port, I buy it, price be damned. Well, the several hundred dollar ports I only dream about as I live on a kool-aid budget. So if anyone reading this makes a damn good port, I’d be happy to take it off your hands for a review! Yes, I shamelessly put that out there. It’s what port does to me. I become a hooker ready to pawn myself to the highest bidder. But only for port.

What is this stuff called port that makes me act like a child who was just told they’re going to Disney World? I’m glad you asked. Port is typically a sweet, red fortified wine from Portugal, but it can come from all over the world and be other colors besides red. That cleared it up for you, right? Although many port-style wines are made from around the world – most notably Australia, South Africa, and the United States – the strict usage of the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal. It’s that whole pesky centuries of wine tradition and international law thing (which I agree with, so don’t go spouting off that I’m against it). Portugal deserves to have the name Port. In fact, Port from Douro, Portugal comes from the world’s oldest regulated and demarcated wine region dating back to 1757. But as you know, my blog focuses on East Coast wine, therefore I’m going to talk about port-style wines from this region (with the exception of one notable port-style wine from California that I have to share with you). Most of the port-style wines in the United States call themselves Port, so I will call them by their actual names on the bottle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with it.

No one knows exactly when port, as we know it, was created. In any event, sometime during the end of the 1600’s or beginning of the 1700’s, someone came up with the idea of stopping the fermentation with brandy while the wine was still sweet, fruity, and strong. Apparently, we loved the stuff because it’s quite the booming trade now! Port-style wines are typically enjoyed as a dessert wine because it is rich and sweet. There are several styles of port including red, white, rose, and an aged style called Tawny Port. While much of the port-style wines you see on the market of average quality, there are port-style wines that are highly treasured for sipping. Some can be reasonably priced and others that can cost several hundred dollars.

There are several different kinds of port, but the two primary styles of port include a red port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness). Port should be served just below room temperature, around 60 degrees F. The serving size for port is approximately 3 oz. Here’s a great chart from that explains the  different kinds of port so I don’t have to go into it.

With the basic idea of port knowledge out of the way, it’s time for a few reviews!

I’ll start with Buckingham Valley Vineyards located in Bucks County, PA. Buckingham Valley was one of the first wineries under Pennsylvania’s Farm Winery Act of 1968, which allowed wineries to sell wine directly to the public, if it was made from Pennsylvania grown fruit. Their history is quite entertaining. Go read about it on their website. I highly recommend their Ruby Port. For only $16.00, you get a decent quality young port-style wine. It’s very full-bodied with dark, jammy plum and chocolate flavors…a little hot on the alcohol, but drinking it with a slice of chocolate cake takes the tinge away (or at least hides it). If you desire to try port, but don’t want to spend the big bucks yet, this is a good place to start.

My second recommendation is Alba Vineyard’s Vintage Port. Founded in 1980, Alba Vineyards is nestled in the beautiful New Jersey upland valleys. They pride themselves on their higher quality wines and unique culinary events. The 2010 Vintage Port was divine and another example of a quailty port for a reasonable price at $23.99. Usually a Vintage Port isn’t poured until it’s aged at least 20 years…who has time for that? My lack of patience and the need to share it with you justified my cracking the bottle open. Oh, who am I kidding? I would have done it anyways and I’m so glad I did. Chewy coca-cola notes with bursts of candied ripe black cherries, licks of plum, and a lingering note of faint hazlenut on my tongue. Aging, and being patient, will only improve this port with time. I’m going to have to buy another bottle and try to be a little more patient this time (yeah right).

My third recommendation is not an East Coast winery, but it’s one of those wines that leaves such an indelible impression on me that to not mention it would be remiss. I can count on one hand the wines that have left their permanent mark. This is one of them. Field Stone Winery was founded in 1977 with its own celebrated estate vineyards dating back to 1894. It is located near Sonoma County and Napa Valley in California. If you want a port that will blow you away and still not break the bank, you have to try their 2010 Staten Family Reserve Vintage Port for $50.  Their family’s historic Petite Sirah vineyard (over 100 years old!) is typical of “Pet” vineyards which were planted at that time as a “field blend,” combining Petite Sirah with a sprinkling of grand old Zinfandel, a touch of choice Carignan, and a drop of Golden Muscat. It is this traditional blend that gives their Vintage Port its distinctive character and charm. Decadent and opulent with chocolatey syrup, luscious raspberry, and juicy blueberry notes. Hazelnut and almond notes come peeking out on the lingering thick finish. Field Stone Winery’s Vintage Ports have great aging potential. And again, I’m too damn impatient to wait. They do very limited runs of the Vintage Port. I’m saving up to buy several and hoard them.

In closing, remember…I’ll pimp my blog, Facebook, and Twitter page out for anyone who gives me Port. Yes, I’m shameless. But I told you that in the beginning when it comes to Port!

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