WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

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WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:13 pm

When is Port not Port?

Wine geeks get crabby when winery marketing departments appropriate the names of historic wine regions and put them to work on the labels of wines that never earned the right to bear them.

The long-term abuse of "Burgundy" and "Chablis" for forgettable domestic wines has all but faded now, thankfully; and even the longer-lived "Champagne" on the label of bubblies that never saw France is finally starting to fade, falling before both an increasingly aware consumer market and the gradual tightening of a long-standing legal loophole that had allowed American producers latitude unavailable to the rest of the world.

Until quite recently, though, producers in the United States and Australia remained free to borrow for their dessert wines a geographical moniker that properly belongs to Portugal: It's still fairly easy to find yourself a bottle of strong, sweet domestic "Port."

As a general rule, a cynic would observe, the wines that misappropriate the traditional names are the least likely to resemble them; and certainly, before they entered well-deserved obsolescence, I steered well clear of California "Chablis" and "Burgundy."

Today's featured wine, however, represents an exception that proves the rule: A non-vintage California "Port" from Charbay, a Napa-based producer that specializes in distilled liquors and fortified wines, this ruby-red sweetie is an offbeat but very fine wine, made from late-harvested Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah grapes in the manner of traditional Port, and fortified with a remarkable mix of five of Charbay's own brandies: Folle Blanche Brandy, Black Muscat Grappa di Marko, Pinot Noir Marko, Gewürztraminer Marc and freshly double-distilled Cabernet Sauvignon Brandy.

While I might not exactly applaud Charbay's decision to use the name of the historic city of Oporto at the mouth of the Douro for a California wine, I can't fault the wine, one of the few New World fortified wines I've encountered that could hold its own in a blind tasting against the real stuff, and I suspect the name was chosen more with respect than marketing in mind.

Charbay, a tiny family firm run by Miles, Susan, Marko and Lara Karakasevic, also makes stunning liquors, even artisanal vodkas. I'll report on one of those in another edition some time soon. For more information about the company and its beverages, see the Website,
http://www.charbay.com

<table border="0" align="right" width="100"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/char1213.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Charbay California "Port" ($75/500 ml)

Very dark ruby, opaque in the glass. Rich, typical Port aromas, black raisins and plums, add light scents of walnuts. Walnut character is more evident on the palate, nicely balanced with "grippy" acidity and smooth tannins. It opens up in the glass (and in the leftover bottle) to lush complexity. A respectful imitation of true Port, very well done.

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Port and Port-style wines are really best enjoyed by themselves as an after-dinner drink, although this one went very well with traditional Port accompaniments, sharp Cheddar cheese and cracked walnuts.

<B>VALUE:</B> It's a fine fortified dessert wine. Bargain-seekers should note that the winery price is in the range of true Portuguese Vintage Port, but this is a fine and very serious dessert wine that arguably justifies its special-occasion price with its quality. Scarcity and demand are also considerations: Only four barrels were made.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> As with high-end Port from Portugal, this well-crafted and balanced wine will last, and may evolve additional complexity, over quite a few years under controlled cellar temperature.

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Perhaps the best way to locate Charbay Port and its other beverages is through the company Website. Click "Shop" at the upper right to browse the winery store.

Look up vendors and prices for Charbay on Wine-Searcher.com.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Peter May » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:28 pm

Robin Garr wrote:When is Port not Port?


Just a guess but how about -- when it is not made from traditional Portuguese varieties in Portugal?

Robin Garr wrote: I suspect the name was chosen more with respect than marketing in mind.


gnarf gnarf.....
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Gary Barlettano » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:37 pm

When I think of "Port," Robin, I first make the association with the place, but then also with a style of wine. To be sure, one can probably make the same claim for Burgundy, Champagne, etc., but Port seems to be an exception. We can call Burgundy "Pinot Noir;" we can call Champagne "sparkling wine," but what do we call "Port" if not "Port?" Maybe it's simply fortified wine. I don't know. What would you and the others say? What does one call a wine made according to the traditional methods of Port when it is not made in Portugal?
And now what?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Carl Eppig » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:41 pm

According to Dan Berger in this week's newsletter there is a new group of wine name police lurking about. They are called Center for Wine Origins (CWO). They are only shooting at people with bogus Port, Sherry, or Champagne names printed on front or back labels. If you make or label bogus Beaujolais, Chablis, Sauternes, or Burgundy they will not bother you. Why? CWO is funded by the Port, Sherry, and Champagne people.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:42 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:what do we call "Port" if not "Port?" Maybe it's simply fortified wine. I don't know. What would you and the others say? What does one call a wine made according to the traditional methods of Port when it is not made in Portugal?


Quady Cellars in Madera (?) handled this in a stylish way: They call their Port-style wine "Starboard." ;)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:43 pm

Peter May wrote:Just a guess but how about -- when it is not made from traditional Portuguese varieties in Portugal?


And how does that differ from what I said?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Ian Sutton » Fri Dec 15, 2006 6:02 pm

I always thought, rather than legal loophole, it was just another tool used in trade negotiations (and a suitable agreement hadn't been reached). Not disimilar to the bizarre situation where some NZ stickies were banned from EU because they're potential alcohol was above 15%.

Then of course the French copyrighted the name 'Kiwi' so they could sell Sauvignon Blanc off the back of the New Zealanders success with the variety.

regards

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Peter May » Fri Dec 15, 2006 6:12 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Peter May wrote:Just a guess but how about -- when it is not made from traditional Portuguese varieties in Portugal?


And how does that differ from what I said?


Just answering your question.

I have some sympathy for people using the name Port who make fortified wines from the same varieties and in the same manner, only difference is that the geographical location (since there is a lack of suitable alternative descriptors) but the only connection with this wine is that it is fortified.

Also interested in your comment

Robin Garr wrote: Until quite recently, though, producers in the United States and Australia remained free to borrow for their dessert wines a geographical moniker that properly belongs to Portugal:


What has changed recently in the US regarding use of the word Port? I thought the Portuguese producers had to use Porto and port was open to anyone else.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Randy Buckner » Fri Dec 15, 2006 7:20 pm

I always thought, rather than legal loophole, it was just another tool used in trade negotiations (and a suitable agreement hadn't been reached). Not disimilar to the bizarre situation where some NZ stickies were banned from EU because they're potential alcohol was above 15%.


Champagne and other regions guard the right to use their names, and have done so since the 1891 Treaty of Madrid was signed. The treaty states that only wines made in a specific region can use the name on the bottle. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles reaffirmed the 1891 treaty.

We see bottles produced in the United States with “Champagne” and other regional names on the label. Why? The United States never signed the Treaty of Versailles. We made a separate peace agreement with Germany. This agreement did not include regulations regarding beer, wine, and spirits, because we were in the throes of prohibition and did not see the need to sign what was already illegal.

This loophole allows vintners in the United States to take advantage of the situation. You’ll frequently see the French regions of Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis used on American wine labels.

I don't know what the latest agreements are between the EU and the US, but talks were ongoing in 2005. I know the US plans to limit the use of 17 European wine names -- Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Claret, Haut-Sauterne, Hock, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine, Sauterne, Sherry and Tokay.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Carl Eppig » Fri Dec 15, 2006 7:42 pm

Randy Buckner wrote:I know the US plans to limit the use of 17 European wine names -- Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Claret, Haut-Sauterne, Hock, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine, Sauterne, Sherry and Tokay.


The way I understand it, this applies to future brands. Current brands are grandfathered.
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Darn Cranky Louisville Folks.....

Postby TomHill » Fri Dec 15, 2006 7:58 pm

Uhhhhh, Robin.... I thought the Port that is made in Portugal was called Porto. I was thinking they had changed the name of their "Port" because the name "Port" had become so widely abused. Am I wrong on this one??
I really have no problem with the use of the name "Port" when it refers to a style of fortified wine, even if it's fortified by high-proof spirits and made from non-Portugese varieties. Andy changed his Port to StarBoard when he wanted to sell his wine in Europe and knew he couldn't under the name of Port. He also trademarked StarBoard, so that no other wineries can use that name.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Randy Buckner » Fri Dec 15, 2006 8:04 pm

The way I understand it, this applies to future brands. Current brands are grandfathered.


That very well may be the case, Carl. I haven't seen anything on the subject in more than a year.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Glenn Mackles » Fri Dec 15, 2006 8:16 pm

I'm really not all that concerned about the use of the word "port." Especially when the bottle looks nothing like a traditional bottle from Portugal and it says California prominently. However, other than it is nice to see a US quality producer, for the price they are asking for that stuff I can get a pretty fine bottle of the real thing. Seeing it comes out at well over $100 for 750 ml, unless you tell me its better than Porto, I'll probably stick with Porto.

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Re: Darn Cranky Louisville Folks.....

Postby Randy Buckner » Fri Dec 15, 2006 8:19 pm

Not everyone, Tom:

[img]http://i71.photobucket.com/albums/i134/Randybuckner/taylorport.jpg[/img]

Taylor's is using the name "Port."
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Re: Darn Cranky Louisville Folks.....

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 9:13 pm

TomHill wrote:Uhhhhh, Robin.... I thought the Port that is made in Portugal was called Porto. I was thinking they had changed the name of their "Port" because the name "Port" had become so widely abused. Am I wrong on this one??


Tom, not exactly wrong but possibly incomplete. It appears to me - not based on a reading of the law but observation in Oporto and in the US - that the Port industry is using Oporto in Portugal and as the appellation of origin, but many houses continue using "Port" at least for export to the English-speaking market.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 15, 2006 9:15 pm

Glenn Mackles wrote:unless you tell me its better than Porto, I'll probably stick with Porto.


Tough call, Glenn. I'd be reluctant to make that statement short of extended blind tastings of young and aged Charbay alongside Vintage Ports. But I'll say that it's a very fine Port-style wine indeed, and despite being made from non-Port varieties, the combination of quality North Coast fruit and a wacky blend of Charbay's artisanal brandies makes it a very fine drink indeed. I'd certainly say that it blows away any "real" <i>Ruby</i> Port I've ever tasted.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: When is Port not Port? (Charbay California "Port")

Postby Michael K » Fri Dec 15, 2006 9:43 pm

I meet with Marko once and tried his port before it had it the market. I agree, it is a very nice product. The family has a really good approach to the business. They really do seem to enjoy it and only do business with those that they wish to, interspersed with a healthy amount of leisure such as fishing. They are located just up from Terra Valentine on Spring Mountain.
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Re: Darn Cranky Louisville Folks.....

Postby Peter May » Sat Dec 16, 2006 9:18 am

The Portuguese are using Port to describe their wine in English language on the official website at http://www.ivp.pt/ /
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