Port is the fruitcake of alcohol. It usually arrives with holiday guests, gets passed from party to party and then winds up languishing at the back of a liquor cabinet. That’s unfortunate, since the fortified wine not only tastes great but also disappears surprisingly quickly once you summon the courage to open a bottle.
As you can probably guess from the name, port comes from Portugal—the Douro region to be exact—and is the most famous fortified red wine. A bit of neutral grape-based spirit is added to the must before it finishes fermenting, making the final product both sweet and strong. However, that sweetness comes with firm tannins and fruit flavors, so the extra jolt of alcohol is well-balanced.
There are a number of different types of port produced. Starting at the top are vintage bottlings. Just as with Champagne, vintage ports are only made when there is an excellent harvest, and those wines are labeled with a specific year. Fine examples on store shelves now are Graham’s 2007 Vintage ($100), Warre’s 2007 Vintage ($73) and Taylor’s 2007 Vintage ($118). These bottles are best finished in a single evening. If you can wait, you’ll be rewarded; a vintage port will generally improve for decades if stored properly.
If you’re impatient, try a late-bottled vintage (or LBV) port, which has aged four to six years in wood and is intended to be drunk immediately. A good one is Dow’s 2004 Late-Bottled Vintage ($22).
There’s no need either to wait to open tawny ports, with their rich notes of caramel and nuts. When served lightly chilled, a tasty tawny like Taylor’s 20-Year-Old ($40), pairs nicely with fruit- and nut-filled holiday treats. Tawnies have the added benefit of staying drinkable for about a month after opening.
Port also works really well in mixed drinks and has been used in flips, cobblers and nogs for centuries. Graham’s Six Grapes ($22; pictured above) is fruity and delicious sipped neat, in the USS Richmond Punch or in the classic Brandy Sangaree.
Now go check the liquor cabinet to see if there’s a bottle of port back there…
Contributed by Jerry Thomas
- .5 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Water
- 2 oz Brandy
- 4 oz Seltzer
- .5 oz Graham’s Six Grapes Port
Add the sugar and water to a highball glass and stir to dissolve. Add several ice cubes, the brandy and the seltzer, and stir gently to combine. Float the port on top by pouring it carefully over the back of a spoon. Garnish with fresh ground nutmeg.