Port is the world’s most notable fortified wine. Its base can be a number of different red varietal grapes, but it is always fortified (added to the wine) with brandy, to give the drink a sweeter, more alcoholic taste. Port traditionally is served after dinner-enhancing desserts. It is at its best when served with exotic cheeses like a Gorgonzola blue cheese, or an English cheddar. Gouda is also a favorite with Port, as well as Gruyere, Switzerland.
Port’s origins are the valleys in the northern provinces of Portugal, namely the Douro Valley. Under European protection laws, only the wines from Portugal can be called Port or Porto, the city where these wines are made. Some of it takes decades to mature, not in keeping with today’s wine buyer and the “drink now” demands. You will see the word “quinta” on the label. It means farm in Portuguese to refer to the estate or vineyard from where it came in the Douro Valley. The red grapes to look for on the label are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (commonly known as Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Nacional.
The most pronounced flavors in Port are fruitcake, licorice, chocolate and toffee. Vintage Port is the most prominent and expensive of the various types of port (Graham $60). I personally prefer Tawny Port, usually labeled 10, 20 or 30 years old and should be served chilled. It has a distinctly different flavor than the Vintage, displaying hints of caramel, hazelnut, almond and cinnamon. After at least six years of cask aging, they are ready to drink now (Graham 20 year $40).
The English developed the popularity of Port in the 17th century and preserved the wines for the long voyage back to England with Brandy, a process that still lives today.
It’s important to know that a Port style can be made anywhere and California has its share of fine tasting Port style wines. Pedroncelli Winery, which recently celebrated its 90th Anniversary making wine in Geyserville, Sonoma California has been making Vintage Port since 1995 (before the name Port was prohibited outside of Portugal.) Four varietals of Portuguese grapes are used. See pendroncelli.com.
In San Diego County, Brooking Vineyards in Vista grows and bottles a Port-style wine which is rich, sweet and robust. Vista, at one time, was a robust center for fortified wine before prohibition and public taste diminished the demand.
Eric Brooking is the historian for this era of wine making and can be reached at (760) 689-0160.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at Frank@tasteofwineandfood.com