If ever there was Port weather in the Napa Valley, this is it. Highs in the 30s. Lows in the teens. It’s a bit warmer today – it’s supposed to wander up into the 40s. I know that this is nothing compared to what may happen in Nebraska or Niagra, but never the less I say “Brrrr…..”
Why does a glass of Port taste and feel so good on these very chilly nights?
Aside from tradition and romance, there’s actually a logical explanation for it. Port falls into a category of wines called “fortified” wine. What’s the fortification? Grape spirits, or brandy. As the wine ferments, the yeast gradually consumes the grape sugar and converts it to alcohol. The spirits are added before all the sugar is used up. The extra alcohol is too much for the yeast to tolerate so the fermentation ends, leaving a wine that’s typically between 18 and 22% alcohol and noticeably sweet.
As you know, alcohol gives wine a lot of its heft and it comes packing heat! So, you’re literally warmed from within. So, it’s not just the romance of sitting by the fire, sipping a glass of Port and munching on walnuts, the wine is actually doing its work.
How to select a bottle of Port? It can be kind of confusing so let’s just look at the three most popular styles.
Ruby Port: If you want something fruity, ready to drink and not too expensive, this is the one! It’s not as heavy as some and is completely aged before it leaves the winery.
Aged Tawny: If you want something richer and more caramelized, this is the way to go. Look for the Aged Tawny, specifically. There should be a vintage date on the label. If it’s just called “Tawny” it’s been monkeyed with more than it’s actually been aged.
Vintage Port: If you want a fruity power house that can live in your cellar for a long time, spring for this! This is a great choice if you want to put a bottle away for some far-off great occasion like your child’s 21st birthday or your 50th wedding anniversary.
These names apply to the original Port wines from Portugal. You can purchase port-style wines from other countries that may or may not use these names. I find that the real thing, from Portugal, is usually the best value.
Port and food? Easy as pie! Or, actually, nut tart. The aging gives all styles of Port a nutty character, which is why it’s so traditional to pair it with nuts. Port and blue cheese is another tried and true pairing that combines sweet and salty flavors. Yum! Chocolate, especially if it’s filled with berries or caramel is luscious. Remember the guideline that the pairing will be at its best if the food is no sweeter than the wine.
So, now’s the time to enjoy that glass of Port by the fireside before the weather warms up again!
I wrote a more detailed article about Port for the Goosecross website, for those of you who want more information.
Send me your wine question and I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!
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