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Many Ports in a Storm

Quinta do Infantado Ruby

Quinta de Ventezelo Reserva Ruby

Quinta dos Malvedos

Quinta dos Canias

Quinta do Ervamoira

Osborne’s 1997 LBV

Quinta do Noval LBV 1998

Grahams 20-year Tawny

Warre’s Otima

By Jim Clarke

Port may not be a traditional summer drink, but this summer might be a good time to invest in some. All of the major port houses have declared 2003 to be a vintage year, and the wines promise to be remarkable.

Isn’t there a vintage every year? There’s a harvest, yes, but not necessarily a vintage. With Port, a “declared vintage” means the producers have found the quality of the wine that year to be so outstanding that they intend to bottle it on its own instead of blending it with wines from other years to balance and round it out – the more usual practice for Port. About three harvests in each decade receive the honor. They generally all but demand aging; if you had an addition to the family in 2003, buy a bottle or case to present to them for their 21st birthday. Port is also hardier than most table wines, and therefore a good choice if your storage conditions are less than ideal.

Wines with such ageability often hit you hard in the wallet, but Port is a value in this regard. Wines from the 2000 vintage are still available in the $30 to $70 range, and because demand for Port has been suffering of late, 2003’s prices are not expected to go up much from there. 1997 was also a vintage year, and shares the rich tannic structure of 2003. Of the three, the 2000s are the most open at the moment, but don’t be afraid to seek out older vintages. They’ll cost a bit more, but prices still don’t skyrocket for aged Port the way they do for Bordeaux or other trophy wines. 1985, 1986, and 1992 are all drinking very well right now.

On the other hand, if you’d like to drink your Port right away there are several choices aside from the vintage stuff. Ruby Ports are the most precocious of the lot, and generally the most affordable. Made from a blend of wines from several vintages, they receive little or no wood-aging; the focus is on lip-smacking fruity flavors. The Quinta do Infantado Ruby and the Quinta de Ventezelo Reserva Ruby are both notable for the value they offer.

The terraced slopes of the Douro, where Port’s grapes grow, are divided into innumerable “quintas;” the word’s meaning seems to fall somewhere between farm, estate, and vineyard. When you’re shopping for Port, though, there’s two things to know about Quintas. Some, such as Infantado, Ventezelo, and Noval, are self-sufficient Port producers; in many cases these Quintas used to supply grapes to the more established Port houses downriver, but later decided to strike out on their own. The other “Quintas” you find on a bottle are like vineyard designate wines from a larger producer. Grahams Quinta dos Malvedos Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canias, and the Ramos Pinto Quinta do Ervamoira are all strong in this category. These “Quinta” wines are made in decent vintages that don’t make the cut for a declared vintage; the individual terroir of the Quinta makes it worth bottling separately even in lesser years. Consequently, the harvest year does appear on the bottle, and the wines will age well, if not as well as a true vintage Port.

Osborne’s 1997 LBV on StarChefs.comAnother Port style that includes the harvest year on the bottle is Late Bottled Vintage. Ports of this type enjoy four to six years of aging before bottling, but not in an oxidative environment that would encourage nutty, oxidative (see tawny, below) characteristics. Many are then bottled and released as ready-to-drink, while some merit 2-3 years of further bottle-aging after release to really express themselves. “Unfiltered” LBVs are typically a bit fuller and richer than their filtered brethren. Osborne’s 1997 LBV stands out for its complexity, as does the Quinta do Noval LBV 1998 despite a bit of burn on the finish.

Grahams 20-year Tawny on StarChefs.comTawny Ports are a horse of a different color – almost literally. Aged extensively in wood and racked often to give oxygen a chance at the wine, these Ports take on brown and mahogany colors, and fruit aromas give way to caramel and nuts. Like Rubies, Tawny Ports are made by blending aged wines from a mix of vintages to maintain a house style; the given age – generally 10, 20, 30, or 40 years – is the minimum age of the wines used for that bottle. Many critics find 20-year-old Tawny to be the peak of the style; the first Port I ever tried was a Grahams 20-year Tawny, and I can still remember the impression it made. Quinta do Noval makes a superb 10 year old, and the Warre’s Otima is a great value in this category. Quinta do Noval and Cockburn also make strong 20-year Tawnies. These may be the best Ports for summer, with a lower intensity that suits hot weather.

 


 



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       Published: August 2005
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