Port of Call

Port of Call

Porto, the legendary fortified wine whose virtues have been extolled by kings and poets, is an historic sip that often evokes images of tradition, luxury and refinement. But the famed wine offers much more, and is today being renewed with youthful vigor. Once confined to after-dinner quaffing, Porto Wine, made in the world’s oldest appellation, has burst out of its late-night time slot for prime-time appearance in cocktails (a Porto caipirinha, for example) and as a star accompaniment to dishes such as foie-gras at celebratory events..

"We have a diverse mix of people who come here and order Porto," says Kacy Fitch, co-owner of Zig Zag Café, the creative-cusp cocktail bar in Seattle. "They’re knowledgeable and savvy about pairing different Portos with foods, cheeses, and desserts. We can also substitute White Porto for Dry Sherry in cocktails such as a Trident."

PORT 101

Porto is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro region of northern Portugal. Dating to 1756, the Douro is among the first wine-growing district in the world ever formally demarcated. Many of today’s best-known Porto Wine houses date back over 200 years. Founded in 1790 by George Sandeman, a young Scotsman, the namesake House of Sandeman now counts with the presence of the seventh-generation of the family.

As in wine making, Porto wine production starts by pressing grapes of specific quality varietals. However, fermentation is stopped about halfway through by adding a neutral wine brandy, creating a full-bodied wine with high residual sugar and an alcohol of 20% vol. Although Porto comes in diverse tastes, colors, and ages, all Porto Winess are made the same way. The difference depends on the initial complexity of the new wine, and on how they are matured — in large oak vats (for Ruby and Vintage Portos) or in small oak casks (for Tawny). Most are bottled in optimum condition for drinking, while Vintage Porto is select for its outstanding quality and ability to mature in bottle.


"People are eager to get off-the-beaten-path with Porto," observes Megan Morgan, sommelier at the Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone, Colorado. "We’re taking components and mixing things up. Porto with blue cheese is the traditional pairing, but we serve the wine with a blue cheesecake instead."

Ms. Morgan offers some Porto pairing principles:

* The wine should be sweeter than the food it accompanies. That’s why bittersweet chocolate–not milk chocolate–best complements Ruby Porto.

* Match aged wines (the Tawny Portos) with aged cheeses (Cheddar, Jack, Edam), younger wines (Ruby) with young, creamy cheeses (triple crèmes such as mascarpone).

* Follow flavor profiles. Aged in oak barrels for many years, Tawny Portos pick up nutty overtones that go perfectly with pecans, walnuts, and caramelized desserts such as crème brulée. With Ruby Portos, their vibrant flavors of plums and ripe cherries balance well with fresh-fruit pies.

The classic Porto pairing always stays in style: Stilton cheese with Vintage Porto, which is produced from a single, exceptional-quality harvest. Vintage Portos reveal an opulent purple color, ripe red and black fruit aromas, and spicy hints of pepper and clove, such as Sandeman 2007 Vintage Port, which scored a 90 rating in Wine Enthusiast [click here to read the full review.].

For additional food and wine pairings plus suggested cocktail recipes, visit www.sandeman.eu. Sandeman produces many different styles of Porto as well as Sherry, Brandy de Jerez, Madeira, and red wines. For more background about Porto, visit The Center for Wine Origins.

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Published on December 1, 2009