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Two Women on Wine: Time for Port-ly pleasures

Rich and sweet, there are many types of ‘Port’ wines

Posted: January 14, 2010 2:09 p.m.
Updated: January 15, 2010 6:00 a.m.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

 
One of the pleasures in life is enjoying a wonderful meal shared with friends and family and ending the evening in a classic, elegant style by serving a glass of Port.

In a nutshell, Port is a sweet dessert wine fortified with brandy, after which the fermentation process is then stopped, leaving residual sugar in the wine and boosting the alcohol content. This results in a wine that captures the richness and elegance of a true Port.

Although wines labeled "Port" may come from anywhere in the world, true Port is produced in the Douro Valley in Portugal, just as a true Champagne is produced in the Champagne region of France.

There are two main types of Port: wood Ports (aged in barrels) and bottle-aged Ports.

Wood Ports are aged in wooden barrels two to 50 years and are bottled when they are certified ready to drink. Tawny and Colheita Ports are examples of wood Ports. These Ports typically have a stopper cork (cork attached to a cap), can be consumed immediately and will last about two to four weeks after opening.

A Tawny Port is an older, higher-quality wine aged in wooden barrels for several years (10, 20, 30 or 40 years). This exposure to wood imparts a nutty flavor, amber color and aromas of caramel and hazelnut. The older the Tawny, the more amber the color.

A Colheita Port is a Tawny Port whose grapes are harvested in a single year. Instead of age designation like a Tawny, a Colheita will have the actual vintage year listed on the bottle, which is the date of the harvest and bottling. Next time you want to give someone a special birthday or anniversary gift celebrating a certain year, consider a Colheita.

The next types of Ports are those that are bottle-aged. Some examples of these would be Ruby Port, White Port, Vintage Port and LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Port. These Ports are aged in wooden barrels for about two years and spend the rest of their time aging in the bottle, sometimes more than 20 years. Talk about letting the genie out of the bottle after 20-plus years. Wow!

Ruby Port is the least expensive and youngest of this type of Port. These are ready to drink as soon as they are bottled, have a deep, rich ruby color and noticeable sweetness.

One of our favorite, fun Ports is White Port. This little known Port is produced from white grapes and typically served chilled, preferably over crushed ice as an aperitif. We especially enjoy this wine in the summer.

The most well-known, the best and most expensive type of Port is Vintage Port. This is produced from grapes grown in a year that has been deemed exceptional, which appears as the "vintage year." Only the best of years are declared vintage. They are kept in wood for two to three years before they are bottled and generally require another 10 to 30 years of aging in the bottle before they are considered acceptable to drink.

Because of the aging time, Vintage Ports gain complexity and richness years after they are bottled. They are deep in color, with aromas of blackberries, mocha and spices. Vintage Ports are highly sought-after and a favorite for wine collectors.

Late Bottled Vintage Ports are also wines from a single year. Full-bodied, dark and rich, these Ports are ready to drink when released. Although similar to Vintage Port, LBVs do not have the same potential for aging and should not be confused with Vintage Ports.

A few tips regarding Ports:

* Before serving Port, you should let it breathe for about one to three hours. Decanting will not only help with the oxidation of the wine, but help separate the sediment. (Since Ports are generally unfiltered and bottle-aged for some time, they tend to accumulate sediment).

* Once you open a bottle of Port, we recommend you keep it refrigerated to extend its life. Because of the high alcohol content, once opened, Ports tend to last longer than regular wine. In general, Port can last two weeks to a few months, depending on its age and delicacy.

* When storing Ports, wood Ports should be stored upright; bottle-aged Ports on their sides. Like all other wines, Ports should be stored in a cool, dark location.

So now that you have the skinny on Ports, after your next dinner, break open a bottle, take out a wedge of Stilton blue cheese or a mound of shaved dark chocolate, sit back, savor the delectable, decadent flavors and enjoy La Dolce Vita (Italian for "the sweet life")!

Cheers !

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