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Port - The stuff at the end of the wine list
© by April Eichmeier
Crusty old men with ascots and monocles pour thick, dark, liquid from crusty old bottles with imperceptible writing. A few delicate cobwebs cling to their tweed jacket sleeves as they emerge from the cellar.

If this is your image of Port, forget it. And welcome your palate to a new adventure.

Port is made from memorable grapes like Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and Tinto Cao (to name a few). Only Port (with a capital P) comes from the Duoro region of Portugal. If not, the bottle ought to say "port" or "Port style."

At harvest time, Portuguese grape pickers gather the grapes and - you guessed it - take off their shoes, get liquored, and stomp like mad. After that, Port and port are made just like regular wine until "neutral grape spirit" (dammit, call it what it is - brandy) is added to stop fermentation (leaving lots of residual sugar) to leave sweetness, and to make the wine more alcoholic.

Mmm...

Though some might disagree, I've encountered five broad categories of Port on lists and on the shelves of retailers: white, Ruby, Tawny, vintage, and late-bottled vintage.

The first, white Port, is relatively rare on most wine lists and retail shelves. Grapes with monikers such as Malvasia Fina, Donzelinho, Rabigat, Gouveio, Viosinho, and Codega are used to make it. White Port is the lightest both in color and weight, and although all styles are sweet, white Port can be relatively dry. Serve it chilled - as it warms, the taste becomes rather alcoholic. But for Heaven's sake, don't put it on the rocks (despite what the ads say).

Next comes Ruby Port. With fruity, spicy, blackberry flavors, this wine is a blend of vintages and vineyards. It is the most commonly consumed. Drink it when you buy it.

Tawny - aged 20 years, 10, 40 - what have you. The number represents the average age of the wine in the bottle, anywhere from three to 20 years in a cask. More brownish in color, delicate, this wine reminds me of nuts and melted caramels. Some of the better (read: costlier) Tawnies can be aged.

Vintage - only "declared" in certain years when the grapes are good enough. Any producer, though, can make vintage Port any time. 1992 is a good example. The most recent agreed-upon vintage year was 1997. This is the stuff you'll want to buy for new parents so they can consume it with their child when he/she turns 21.

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) - the best value. When the grapes aren't quite good enough to be declared vintage, it spends four or five years in wood and is ready for consumption upon release. Generally more complex and satisfying than Ruby - I think it's worth the money.

Other Ports include Single Quinta (Port from a single harvest or farm), Colheita (single harvest Tawnies made from high quality wines which must age 7 years in wood), and crusted (suffice it to say "grab the decanter").

Port has an interesting history, including sex, intrigue, well, okay, maybe it's more like taxes and long sea voyages. But I encourage you to explore it (while drinking it, of course). And before leaving, my fellow Port explorers, I must alert you to a great web site: www.port-wines.com. I got a few of my details from this web site, and it offers real beginning Port fiends more in-depth information than I've given here.

Por muito tempo vivo Portugaul!

June 1, 2001

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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