Skip the fire: These port wines will keep you warm
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With winter in full swing, it's the perfect time to drink something sweet, and dessert wines come in all shapes and sizes. Portugal is the homeland of Port, and even there the styles and designations vary widely. In the U.S. there is a wide array as well, but most often Port style wines here are made using Zinfandel. Today I'll look at a trio of Ports; two are from Portugal and one is from California.
The first selection is from Optima Cellars in Dry Creek Valley. Optima Wine Cellars produces 5,000 cases annually, focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay and Zinfandel Port. Plans are afoot to start including Gewurztraminer sometime in the next few vintages. Winemaker and co-owner (along with his wife) Mike Duffy has a long history that includes stops at Napa Valley stalwart Trefethen and Filed Stone in Alexander Valley.
The 2005 Orgaz Zin Zinfandel Port is composed entirely from Dry Creek Valley fruit. This offering is made of all Zinfandel and fortified with aged brandy. Barrel aging occurred over 13 months in French oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $26.
Blueberry, black fig and toasty oak fill the nose of this Zinfandel Port. The palate is loaded with rich, dark fruit flavors. Black raspberry, plum, blueberry and blackberry dominate. An undercurrent of chocolate sauce supports everything, along with flourishes of molasses, brown sugar and hints of black pepper. The long and layered finish continues the avalanche of sweet, dark fruit. This offering echoes on the tongue and the back of the throat for a nice long time.
The balance and lengthy finish are what most impress me about this wine. Way too often New World Ports are out of whack. This example from Optima Wine Cellars is anything but. The 2004 Orgaz Zin is loaded with big, dark, fruit flavors but it's also layered and elegant. From a practical standpoint I'm also a big fan of the dessert wines in 500 ml bottles. This has always struck me as a near perfect size; so a couple of points for that too. If you like either Port or Zinfandel, this is a wine well worth a special effort to acquire. It wouldn't hurt to have some dark chocolate on hand to pair with it.
The second selection is Churchill's 2002 Late Bottled Vintage Port. When they were founded in 1981, they became the first independent Port house established in Portugal in more than 50 years. This wine is produced using traditional Port grapes. This offering was aged in wood for four years, after which it was bottled. The suggested retail price is $29.99.
Black and red cherries dominate the nose of this wine, along with a wallop of baker's spice. Kirsch liqueur notes are prominent throughout the palate along with blackberry and plum flavors. Sweet dark chocolate notes kick in at mid-palate along with plum pudding spice. The long, lusty finish is marked by cherry flavors that continue to echo along with dusty cocoa and graham cracker notes.
What I like most about this Port from Churchill's is the impressive finish and the bang for the buck it represents. This is an excellent value that will offer very pleasurable drinking. It will improve in the short term (3 to 6 years) and drink well for several years after that.
The third selection is a Tawny Port. It's among the categories of dessert wines that I reach for most often. When they're done right, the combination of flavor and quality -- at an often very reasonable price point -- is hard to resist. Throw in the general availability of a great number of standard bearer Tawny Ports and it's easy to see why a lot of folks look toward them for their after-dinner wine needs. All Tawny Ports aren't created equally of course, so I find sampling them a fascinating exercise. Today I'm going to look at an example from long time Port house, Sandeman.
The Sandeman 20 Year of Tawny Port was aged in wooden casks. As the name indicates, the average age of the wines blended is at least 20 years. The suggested retail price for this Port is $51.99.
Fruitcake spice and stone fruit aromas lead the nose of this wine. Apricot and yellow cling peach flavors are apparent on the palate, along with honey and various nut characteristics. The finish of this wine is long and lingering with tea notes leading the charge; they're joined by vanilla and continuing spice. This Sandeman Port is delicious on its own and many may consider this to be dessert in and of itself. I sampled it that way (personally, I most often drink Tawny Port on its own). However, I tasted it with sweet cranberry-walnut bread topped with a triple crème cheese and found that to be an outstanding match as well.
Two things stood out to me about this Port. First is the mid-palate, which is simultaneously rich and layered with flavors, but yet gentle and even-keeled. The finish is also impressive in length. Just when you think it's going to end, the flavors linger a bit longer. This Sandeman Tawny Port is an excellent entry in the 20-year category. In its class it offers excellent quality and solid value.
Any of the wines in this trio will keep you warm and satisfy your sweet tooth. While Port is not inexpensive, each of the wines here represents a very good value.