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. Continue reading
Question from Lindsay: What is a vintage red?
Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! I love this kind of question because I know that half of the wine-drinking population probably has the same one.
“A Vintage Wine”: You hear that phrase in the movies, but it’s never been entirely clear to me what is meant. You assume it must be good, right? The speaker might mean that it’s a very good vintage of a fine brand or type. Or, like vintage clothing, it may refer to a fine, older vintage. Maybe both. No wonder everyone’s confused.
In the real world, there are different ways to interpret your question, so let’s start with the most common thing you see when you shop for wine, and that’s the vintage date.
Vintage Date: The vintage date on the label doesn’t mean it’s a good vintage, it’s simply identifying what year the grapes were grown and harvested (harvest is only once a year so it’s a big deal). The wine’s structure and flavor reflects the weather patterns during the growing season, for better or for worse. A warm year produces ripe, fruity flavors and soft acidity (less tartness). A cool growing season makes for a tarter wine that may not be as fruity. The fruitiness is often replaced by herbal, vegetative and/or mineral-like flavors and aromas. So, any wine – a white, red or rosé can have a vintage date. The only way for you to know if it’s a good vintage is to do a search or ask your retailer. Continue reading
Question from Shelly: I have a bottle of port that someone gave me. It’s got gunky stuff just below the bottle neck. Is it okay to drink?
Hi, Shelly. Thanks for writing! There’s nothing to worry about when you see that “crust” on the shoulder. It’s quite natural for full-bodied, intense Port wines to throw a significant amount of sediment as they age, particularly when they’re not filtered. In fact, sediment is so much expected and accepted that there’s actually a small category of Port wine called Crusted Port
What it tells me, is that the person who gave you the Port picked out a good one.
Vintage Port is the top of the line and a tiny part of the total production of Port. It’s released, unfiltered, after two or three years of barrel age and those lucky enough to own one should plan on aging it at home for at least a few more years before drinking it. There are many of the opinion that you shouldn’t even think of opening Vintage Port until it’s at least ten years old. During those years of bottle age, sediment forms and, assuming you’re storing the wine sideways, it settles there in the shoulder.
It could also be a LBV (late-bottled vintage) that wasn’t filtered or a Single Quinta (a vintage-dated, single-estate Port but from a lesser year than normal Vintage Port). And, of course, it could be a Crusted Port. Continue reading