With the onset of winter – and the holiday season fast approaching – Time drink editor James Vigner says it’s time to pass the port. Here are six of his favorite fortified wines from the Douro region of northeast Portugal, baked in the sun…
All port is fortified to an alcoholic strength between 19 and 22% abv. The vast majority of ports, even the oldest ones, are complex blends of various grape varieties grown in various sites, although five main dark, small-berry, thick-skinned grape varieties dominate premium Port production and seem particularly well suited for face the torrid temperatures of the Douro. heat, penetrating sun and dryness.
From a value-for-money unfiltered Sandeman LBV (late bottled vintage) to a 40-year-old tawny sourced from Aldi, here’s a pre-Christmas tour of six exquisite and flavorful ports to whet your appetite and warm you up. this winter. Try these…
1) A Million Dollar Rich Unfiltered Late Vintage Port
Sandeman traditional late bottled vintage (LBV) 2016 (£15.99, but save 25% on 6+ bottles until 15/11/2022, Waitrose, Alc 20.5%)
LBV red and black ports are vintage (meaning single year) wines that have aged approximately four to six years in old oak barrels.
Unlike most other LBVs (and similar in this respect to the vintage port), this top-tier example is unfiltered, making it one for your busy decanter – you don’t want a muddy glass.
With bright/dark red forest fruits, cocoa, spice, and a bit of crowd-pleasing dark chocolate, you’ll get what you pay for with Sandeman’s superior, full-bodied, inky LBV. You can spend three times that price and not end up with a wine as complete and rewarding as this. A racy port from a classic year at a bargain price. It is tailor made for Stilton and Stichelton and also perfect for pepper steak, roast beef, game dishes and chocolate desserts.
2) A captivating “crusted” port, perfect for blue cheese
The Society’s Crusted NV Exhibition, bottled 2013 (£17.50, The Wine Society, Alc 20%)
Non-vintage “crusted” ports are blended wines (in this case fine young ports from the 2009, 2010 and, universally declared, 2011 vintages) that are aged in wood for up to two years before being bottled. bottled without fining or filtration. During this period they will throw up a deposit (the ‘crust’), so you will want to decant this. This port with aromas of dark fruits, spicy fruitcake and plum is a marvel with salty Colston Bassett Stilton and mature farmhouse cheddar.
Ready to drink now but will continue to develop in the bottle. Serve chilled, 12-16°C. Once opened, drink within five days.
3) A majestic port, supple, sweet and black fruits which is a delight
Croft Quinta da Roêda 2004 (£18.99-£21.99, Majestic mix 6 and Whiskey Exchange, Alc 20.5%)
This is a great value, early maturing version of a vintage port from the important beautiful wine farm (just north of Pinhão) responsible for Croft Ports. Drinking it feels like diving into a deep pool of plums, raspberries, licorice, raisins, dark chocolate, spices, rocks and blackberries. Serve around 15-16°C (i.e. not too hot) and decant, checking the presence of sediment in the last lees and consume within 48 hours. Nice drink!
4) A vibrant vintage port
Tesco Finest Vintage Port 2003 (£20, Tesco, Alc 20%)
For most producers, “vintage” port, a blend of the best wines from the best vineyards of a “declared” vintage, is their flagship wine, usually the most sought after and also the most expensive. It is only made in exceptional years (about three times per decade). This is a wonderful example of dark chocolate dried fruit and plums from the famous Symington family estate, the largest landowner in the Douro Valley. It was only aged two years in old barrels before extensive bottle aging and offers amazing complexity for the price. One for the carafe – but drink within two days of opening. Bring the Stilton and the Gorgonzola! Buy now for Christmas as Tesco stocks won’t last much longer I guess!
5) Captivating dated tawny port (‘Colheita’) from the oldest Port wine house
Kopke Colheita 1999 Tawny Port (£32.99, Waitrose, but save 25% on 6+ bottles until 15/11/2022, Alc 20%)
Costing less than bottle-aged vintage ports, colheitas are unique vintage tawnies aged in small casks for at least seven years with a wide range of colors from golden red to tawny, depending on their age. This 1999 offering from Kopke, the oldest port house (founded in 1638), is tart and sublime. Think nuts, caramel, berries, Christmas spices, mocha and mixed bark. Serve around 14-16°C. No need to decant.
6) Venerable port, aged by oxidation, premium tawny
Fletcher’s 40-year-old Port Tawny NV, Barão de Vilar (£39.99, Aldi, Alc 20%)
For value, it’s hard to look past Fletcher’s remarkable 40-year-old Tawny Port produced for Aldi by Barão de Vilar. Nutmeg, coffee, nuts, dried fruits, demerara sugar, orange peel, chocolate, caramel and aged honey all come together in this old tawny port. I could well imagine it at the end of a meal with salted almonds and crème brûlée – or perhaps just enjoying a sip naked, as an after-dinner experience in its own right. Well worth the price – most tawnies of this age are over £100 a bottle!