Food and Wine > Wine

Wine Picks: Sweet Success

Ideal for sipping on cold winter evenings (preferably in front of a crackling fire),
these lush and lovely ports spread warmth and cheer

By David Lawrason

Photography: Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio

THERE IS NOTHING MORE SOOTHING in the teeth of winter than a spine-warming glass of port. As you sip, the summer heat from the sun-baked Douro Valley of Portugal seems to transfer directly into your very being. All port is sweet, fortified to about 20 percent alcohol through the addition of grape brandy partway through fermentation, so there is no such thing as dry port. The flavours do, however, vary according to the length of subsequent aging in barrel and bottle. The more fruit-flavoured ports — ruby and vintage ports — are aged for the shortest amount of time (under four years), while late-bottled vintage ports are aged from four to six years. Although all ports are fine sipping stock, the fruit ports are ideally suited for pairing with chocolate-based desserts and cheeses such as stilton. The wood-character, or tawny, ports are aged seven years or more, with the length of time designated on the label (Ten-Year-Old, Twenty-Year-Old, etc.). The tawnies favour nutty desserts, cheeses, and dried-fruit mixes beside the fire. White port is more mildly flavoured, often showing some wood-induced caramel, while pink port strives to be the rosé of fortified wines.

THE FRUIT PORTS (Ruby, Vintage, And Late-Bottled Vintage)

Fonseca 2007 Vintage Port
$124.95 • 94 points

The 2007 vintage is a masterpiece. This is a dense, very rich wine, yet it’s incredible how much elegance can be sewn into a liquid so massive and sweet. The nose is reserved but possesses dark cherry-fig fruit, licorice, and cedar notes that will bloom in about 10 years. Outstanding flavour length. Private order at www.familywinemerchants.com.

Graham’s 2003 Late Bottled Vintage Port
$17.45 • 88 points

This was a very hot, ripe vintage, so I expected a raisiny, soupy character. But this port sports nicely ripened blackberry and prune amid maturing nuances of cedar, tobacco, and spice. It’s full-bodied, dense, and quite firm on the palate, with considerable heat on the finish. LCBO 191239

Delaforce 2004 Late Bottled Vintage Port
$16.95 • 87 points

This is a generous port with almost overripe, raisiny dried-fig fruit, chocolate, and a touch of oxidation. Quite full-bodied, it is initially sweet and smooth, then tails into quite firm tannin. It could use more bottle time, but the fruit may not last all that long. Vintages 140897

Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Port
$15.20 • 87 points

If you’ve never tried port, this is the place to start. This bottle is inexpensive and perfectly typical — from its deep purple-ruby colour to its blackberry, cream, cedar, lead-pencil, and licorice aromas. Initially elegant with firm acidity, minerality, and hot alcohol on the finish. Doesn’t have the depth of more expensive models. LCBO 309401

THE WOOD PORTS (Tawny)

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny
$36.95 • 500 mL • 93 points

Brilliant orange-amber colour. It’s very intense and powerful, with considerable nuttiness, wood spice, and dried figs or dates. Sweet but with more acidity than most, leaving a drier and quite velvety impression, plus some of that alcohol heat. Excellent length. LCBO 620641

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny
$67.95 • 92 points

Pale pinkish-tawny in colour, this port is a little less mature than other tawnies of this age. Exhibits a complex, full, and intriguing bouquet of dates, walnut, tea, dried cedar bough, orange, and honey. Smooth, sweet, and powerful. Excellent length, with a very spicy finish. Vintages Essential 149047

Ferreira Dona Antonia Personal Reserve
$18.70 • 90 points

This port is not categorized as a tawny, but it has a more mature character than most in the ruby class. It boasts an elegant, fruity, sensuous style with generous aromas; cedary, earthy elements; and youthful black cherry-plum fruit. It has a somewhat light feel and a silky texture, with a powerful, spicy finish. LCBO 157586

Warre’s 10 Year Old Otima
$22.95 • 500 mL • 90 points

Packaged in a very pretty clear glass bottle, this is a very stylish and smooth tawny with apricot, orange, honey, and cedary flavours. Smooth, sweet, elegant, and cool. Finishes with a drier impression than many. Excellent length, with a lingering flavour of walnuts. LCBO 566174

Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny
$27.90 • 89 points

One of the least-aged tawnies, expressed by the pinkish hue. Aromas are a bit fruitier than most, with apricot, plum, honey, and cedary spice — less walnut. This tawny possesses a seamless, smooth, and elegant texture, with a warm finish. Very good to excellent length. LCBO 206508

WHITE AND PINK PORT

Fonseca White Port
$13.80 • 86 points

Made from white grapes and aged in barrels that produce its yellow-gold colour. Has a soft nose of honey, corn syrup, apricot, and gentle spice. Full-bodied, sweet, and warm, with dusty dryness. Vintages 276816

Croft Pink Port
$19.95 • 87 points

A new type, this port has a lighter style. It comprises all the grape, berry, and watermelon aromas of a young rosé, but it is sweet and smooth. There’s nice harmony here, even if it’s not profound in any way. Chill lightly. Vintages 140871

Reprinted from the February/March 2010 issue. Prices current at that time.

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