Fortified wines are not easy to sell nowadays. Far fewer people drink them than in their heyday, and that goes particularly for port.
Both sherry and Madeira, the other two leading fortified wines, have had some semblance of a revival. But port? Not so much.
I rarely drink it, maybe once a year, far less than sherry or Madeira. One reason is port’s lack of versatility. It’s very sweet, which makes it primarily an after-dinner drink, a category that likewise has seen much better days.
Nonetheless, port remains one of the great wines, and for that reason alone it’s worth investigating.
This month we will examine tawny ports, which, unlike vintage ports, are ready to drink immediately. Vintage ports are bottled after two years in wood and generally must age for decades. They are produced only in years deemed exceptional, and are more expensive.
Tawny port, by contrast, is made from a blend of vintages and aged for years in wood before it is released. This prolonged wood aging also gives it its tawny color.
The best tawny ports are bottled with age statements — 10, 20, 30 or 40 years — indicating how long they have rested in barrels. Inexpensive tawnys are aged fewer years and sometimes are simply a blend of white and ruby ports.
This month I chose three tawny ports of differing ages, all from the same producer, Taylor Fladgate. They are:
Taylor Fladgate Fine Tawny (Kobrand, New York) $17
Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Kobrand, New York) $30
Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port (Kobrand, New York) $52
The idea is to examine both the genre and the effects of aging, with an effort to eliminate the variables that might surface when tasting ports from multiple producers. My picks should be widely available, but if you find other producers, don’t hesitate to drink those instead. The 20-year-old is not cheap, but my guess is that it will go the furthest in conveying the potential pleasures of port.
These ports are not something to serve with a meal in front of the television. Their sweetness and high alcohol (20 percent) consign them to small servings, often after a meal or occasionally for an aperitif. Blue cheese is a classic with port. Or try a glass chilled as an aperitif, especially the unaged tawny.
They will go with nuts, and nut-based desserts, and, if your holiday celebration includes fruitcakes, sticky toffee puddings and the like, port may be just the thing. You do hear a lot of people recommending port with chocolate, but I’m not a fan. Madeira and vins doux naturels are better choices.
Ordinary wine glasses are fine for port, and unless you plan it as an aperitif, serve it cool, approximating cellar temperature, about 55 to 60 degrees.
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