We had a big snowstorm this week and it was the perfect inspiration to drop some scoop on you about one of my favorite winter sips: Port. Lots of people think of Port mainly around the fall and winter holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, but Port is really something to savor any time of the year. It is especially nice during winter, though, because it is so hearty and warming. (See way below for a tip on White Port and the Porto Tonico cocktail – best summer drink ever.)
I was excited to get samples of two Ports from one of the oldest Port houses in all of Portugal: Graham’s. The reason I was so excited: one is a Ruby Port and one is a Tawny Port. When I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam in 2015, the Port chapter was one of the most fascinating and also one of the most complex, so let’s put that schooling to use, shall we?
First, Port is a fortified wine, where unaged Brandy is added before fermentation to result in a wine that clocks in at about 20 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) or so.
Secondly, there are nine different styles of Port that can be made! What the what? Learning and memorizing this nearly broke my brain, and I didn’t even have any freaking Port to sip while studying!
Here, I will share the basics of the two most widely available styles of Port: Ruby and Tawny. Maybe you want to do your own side-by-side tasting – it’s really fun to compare them.
Six Grapes (by Graham’s) Reserve Ruby Port ($27) This is the wine on the left, above. Ruby Port is considered the beginning point of Port. It has a vibrant ruby red color and is aged in large oak casks or at least two years before bottling.
I call this a “fun” port because it is brighter and more fruit-forward than a Tawny Port (that’s a result of slightly less aging). It tastes juicier, with raspberries, cherries and cassis shining through, under-scored with a nice chocolate note. It’s sweet, yes (all ports are sweet), and makes a lovely after-dinner sip or even an aperitif with some salty olives, cheeses or Iberico ham (I know, I know … that’s a Spanish type of ham, but it is found all over Portugal. God, how I love it!) The grapes in this wine are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Tinta Barroca.
I love the story of the name of this wine. Since the 1800s, Graham’s winemakers marked each barrel of Port using grape symbols to rate the quality of the wine from one to six. The image of six grapes meant that the wine had Vintage Port potential. (Vintage Port is made from wines that are all from a single year’s harvest. A Vintage Port is made in only about three out of every 10 years and is aged a really, really long time before release.) Six Grapes is Graham’s signature reserve port and the name reflects the high quality of the grapes that winemaker Hugh Symington uses.
Graham’s 10-Year Tawny Port ($39) Tawny ports are essentiall Ruby Ports that are aged long enough in oak for the color to change through oxidation (air exposure) from ruby red to a more coppery, golden maroon color (the wine on the right, above). Basic Tawnies can age for just a few years but this sexy beast is aged for 10 years. And dang – it’s complex and provocative. It evokes honey syrup, dried figs and dates and candied walnuts…. and, oh hi … raisins and dried cherries and cranberries are here, too. It’s silky and heavy-weighted and sooooo good. Kind of indulgent. Like, if you’re sitting on the couch, watching your fave Netflix show, this is a delight with a square of dark chocolate.
A Few Other Piece of Port Wisdom
How long is it good for after opening? There are different schools of thought. Because of the high sugar content and high alcohol, these wines can remain delicious after opening for many weeks. I recommend stoppering them and keeping them in the fridge, which slows further oxidation and just remember to pull the bottle about 45 minutes before you want to drink it because a Port-sicle is not enjoyable.
What kind of glass should I use and how much should I pour? I use a small all-purpose wine glass. (There are small stemmed Port glasses – I just don’t have any.) Three ounces is the perfect pour- which is awesome, because a 750ml bottle (which is 25.4 ounces) gives you about eight and a half servings – perfect for a dinner party, or a long cold month of winter!
What kind of cheeses go with Port if I’m going to drink it like a fancy Euro-style person? You’re going to want to go with some strong cheeses. And yes, there a shit-ton of people who think bleu cheese and Port is the bomb and for them, maybe it is, but I hate bleu cheese (shut up, I know). So I would go with a very ripe Brie or Camembert, or Taleggio. Or… some really good Parmesan, served in chunks, so you get those savory salt crystals. Manchego could also be a nice pairing.
Can I Drink Port in the Summer? Mmmm, you could – but not at my house. Port is nobody’s best friend in really hot weather – too sweet and too high-alcohol. Drink White Port in the summer, mixed with tonic water and garnished with citrus slices, on the rocks, and thank me later.
And there you have it: a tale of two Graham’s Ports in a snowstorm. I hope you feel inspired to add Port into your winter sipping cycle. And as you can see, you don’t even have to spend a crazy amount on a really good bottle. Felicidades, friends! (That’s “Cheers” in Portuguese … at least according to Google translate. 🙂