A glass of port by a warm fire

Six Grapes

Winter conjures up images of relaxing in front of a roaring fire in a ski lodge and sipping a glass of port. While the Heights may lack ski lodges, there is no reason why a glass of port can’t be enjoyed in front of a roaring blaze in your fireplace.

Port is a type of wine made in Portugal. Unfortunately, some countries fail to honor Portugal’s right to the name and produce knock-offs of those wines. As for real port, there are 46 permitted types of grapes used, with the six most common being Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Amarela. The wines are made like regular table wines, but then a neutral grape spirit is added to stop the fermentation, leaving a typically sweet wine, high in alcohol.

Port comes in a variety of styles and a range of prices. The two biggest distinctions among ports are based on their color. Ruby ports are dark red with vibrant fruit flavors. In tawny ports, the fruit has been oxidized, giving them a golden brown color. Tawny ports tend to be nuttier in flavor.

Although port wines can be from a specific vintage, most of the reasonably priced versions tend to be from a blend of vintages. These are made in a house style that is consistent from year to year.

For this article, I reviewed two different wines from the house W. & J. Graham’s. They are one of the three leading port producers, along with Fonseca and Taylor-Fladgate. Like most of the leading port producers, this winery was started by the British, who comprised the primary port market in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Graham’s Six Grapes Port ($24 at the Cedar Green Heinen’s) is a ruby port. The wine has pretty raspberry aromas with just a hint of dark chocolate and raisins. It is slightly sweet and very drinkable.

I also tried the Graham’s Tawny Port ($19 at Whole Foods). This is like the color of raspberry iced tea. The nose is nuttier with milk chocolate notes. Actually, comparing the two wines, this is more Goobers® and the first one, Raisinets®. Graham’s Tawny is slightly sweeter with a mouth-coating viscosity.

Both wines, however, have a lovely warming quality, partially from their 19 percent alcohol.

Do not gulp these wines. Rather, they should be sipped slowly, after a meal. Although they may be expensive, they can be enjoyed for several weeks after opening the bottle. Don’t be in a hurry. If you’re between meals and want a glass of port, try one of these classic matches—Stilton cheese and walnuts, or chocolate—and enjoy!

Loren Sonkin lives in Cleveland Heights. He is the winemaker for SonkinCellars.com in California and writes for IntoWine.com.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 11:45 AM, 02.16.2010