We took my mom out to a very fancy dinner last night and my dad ordered a glass of port.
I took a taste and I’m hooked.
Most wines, (Rhyslings excluded) taste like grape-juice gone bad–I’ve never tasted those flavors that wine writers talk about “’…subtle hint of peaches’? ‘cinnamon after-notes’? What are they talking about?”
But last night…mmmm…good. It was a 10 year old tawny port (“Taylor” brand, maybe?) and wow. Just…wow. It had this incredibly complex flavor and it actually had all those ‘notes’ that wine writers talk about. I got:
amost a hint of bitter-chocolate
a strong caramel aftertaste
and that was only from one sip.
I stopped at my friendly neigborhood liquor store last night and he had a bottle mismarked–it was a 20-year old “Barros” brand tawny port marked at the 10-year old price (the 10 year old price was 2/3ds less than the 20!). When I pointed it out to him, he said to take it for the price it was marked–anything to get another port fan hooked!
Doing some reading, I’ve found that regular port is more “fruity” and tawny port is more–‘walnuts’ and ‘butterscotch’ and ‘caramel’. That true?
What’ll be the differences between a 10 and a 20 year old port in flavor? What should I know? Brands to try? Will there be a huge difference in flavor between the Taylor and the Barros brands? How 'bout other brands?
I’m a big fan of port after living in Portugal for a couple of years, but don’t claim to be an expert. I bought a case of Graham’s 20 Year Old, which is terrific. Port, like most wines, improves with age. I’m almost surprised that the Taylor 10 year was drinkable, as it’s been my experience that ports less than 15 years old aren’t usually worth buying. One of the best parts about where I lived in Lisbon is that I was about 2 blocks from the Port Wine Institute, where you could go and sample over 100 different ports (not all in one night), including some truly exceptional 30 and 40-year old vintages. I’ll leave it to someone else to explain the different terms of aging.
“Regular” port (of which there are multiple kinds–e.g., vintage, late bottled vintage, etc.) is a fortified red wine that is bottled young and then aged in the bottle. It tastes like a red wine on steroids. Tawny port is aged in the barrel and then bottled, so it doesn’t bottle-age; you’ve already tried it, so you basically know what it tastes like. There’s also white port, which I don’t really know anything about.
Within the subsection of tawny port, you’ll also see bottles labeled “Colheita <year>”. Most tawny port is a blend, but if it’s a good year the port makers will make a tawny port from a single vintage, so “Colheita” is the tawny equivalent of “Vintage”.
As tawny port gets older, it gets smoother and mellower (“better”, IOW). 10-year tawny is okay but not that great. In my experience, 20-year tawny is the sweet spot between taste and price–I’ve had 40-year tawny that was clearly better than 20-year, but it’s a lot more expensive. On the other hand, Porto Rocha used to make (and may still make it, but I haven’t checked recently) an “anniversary” tawny that was a blend containing some much older wine, and it was both quite expensive and totally worth it. If you can find a good bar, you may be able to arrange for a vertical tasting of different ages.
There are also taste differences between the port produced by the different houses, but this is a personal choice. Taylor is well-regarded, and I think their stuff tends to have a pleasant, refined character to it. I tend to gravitate toward Porto Rocha because it’s a bit cheaper than Taylor and has a different character that I like. You’ll really just need to shop around and try some different bottles to decide what you like.
I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal two months back, and managed to get in a few glasses of port every night.
The white ports are young, fairly dry, and suitable as an aperitif.
Vintage ports – ruby and tawny – are for after dinner. The rubies are fruitier and sweeter and reddish in color; the tawnies are drier and heavier and brownish.
I didn’t see many Portuguese drinking port WITH their meals; like most people, we had a table wine with dinner.
Port did not blow me away like sherry did when we spent time in southern Spain…down there, you would put away several glasses of fino or manzanilla with lunch, with your tapas, and then again with dinner. After the first few days we skipped the wines entirely and just drank sherry all the time.
I found a nice manzanilla at a great price here in Brooklyn – Osbourne’s – and now I have a standing order at the local wineshop for at least a case a month; we keep a bottle in the fridge and have a chilled glass before dinner. I’m not going to do anything like that with port, though. I keep a bottle of vintage tawny in the drinks cabinet and take it out two or three times a year…and always on Christmas Day, to drink with the Stilton after dinner.
Here’s a link to a book I was thinking of buying before the Portugal trip, just in case I ended up loving port as much as sherry.
I was about to ask about that! From the very little experience I have with wine, it gets…yukky…once opened. At least the rhyslings that I like do…they get…flat (not in a carbonated sense, just dull-tasting). Apparently ports don’t? How long will they keep once the bottle’s opened?
Yeah they do, although it does take longer. I’d try to finish a bottle inside of a week, and I can taste the changes on a day-to-day basis. (For a regular wine, I’d try to finish a bottle the next day.)
Because they are fortified wines, ports will keep a little longer than regular wines. But they still oxidize. They make products to remove the air from opened bottles, and that can slow the process, but you should still finish a bottle within a week or so. Try buying smaller bottles if possible.
If you aren’t hung up on the classics, there are a number of California wineries that make port from their grapes. I have a bottle of Rutherford Hill Zinfandel port that is just fantastic!!
Since you mentioned Taylor’s and Barros, I could point out that they both have websites, both of which are full of info.
Taylo’rs may be the best brand (especially for it’s fnatastically overpriced vintage port). Quinta do Noval is another candidate for greatness. If you click on the “making gret port” linky you’ll get a pretty easy to understand graphic to explain the differences between the various syles of port. The best port I have ever had was a Croft 1963. They also have an excellent introduction to the whole port story.
A suggestion for introducing friends to good port, since most people have only had cheap and nasty product and think it all tastes that bad: Serve the port with some stilton cheese and almonds (or walnuts). The combined flavors will practically cause orgasm.
I prefer sherry to port, and agree with Ukelele Ike about the wonders therein. I’m working on a bottle of Domeq and trying to make it last, since I can’t afford $50 for another bottle right now. I’m down to my last bottle of Graham’s 20-year old port, as well, which is a real bummer, cuz I really can’t afford more of that.
I personally like ruby ports better than tawny (the little I’ve tried). I think that someone who likes tawny ports will also like sherry, although YMMV since my experience with both is limited (if I’m going to drink an after-dinner fortified wine, it’s going to be a ruby port).
Nitpicks: It’s riesling, not Rhysling, who was a Heinlein character. Also, most wines do not get better with age. Most wines peak within at most a few years of bottling. It’s only a small fraction of wines – even good ones – that are going to drink better three years out than they did one year out. This is especially true with whites, like rieslings.
I’ll just say some basics.
Port is usually considered an after dinner drink, and was historically (ie sexistly) considered a man’s drink. It would be served in a differnt room to where the dinner was served, and would be accompanied by cigars and manly talk. Port should be decanted before serving, that is poured into a decanter and left to allow sediment to settle. It is served in small wine glasses (often matching the decanter as part of a set) with each person pouring their own port and then passing the port decanter to the left (traditionally do not allow the decanter to touch the table or rest until it returns to the original pourer).
There are many varieties and styles of Port, which gets its name from the country of Portugal. Age makes a great difference to Port’s character and almost always older is better. There even exists white Port.
These days Port is most often drunk along with the cheese course, and a special reverance is heald for the combination of flavours that is Port and stilton.