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Perfect Pairing for a Quiet Night

December 20, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Quick: can you name the wine (a type of wine) which would help you to enjoy your quiet evening? Winter evenings often bring out this “quiet night” analogy, as it gets dark really early, and you might find more time available to yourself. But of course, there are plenty of quiet nights during spring, summer, and fall. When all the daily chores are done, the house is getting quiet, you can pour yourself a glass of something, sit in your favorite chair with your favorite book (maybe), and just feel at ease. So what would that “something” in your glass be?

If you said Scotch (neat!), we are totally intuned, but this we will discuss other time.

If you said Port, then we really understand each other, because it is Port I want to talk about today.

What do you think of Port? Not the port-style, but actual, classic Port from Portugal – 10, 20, 30, 40 years old, vintage, late bottled vintage, colheita – doesn’t matter what type and age, but classic Port?

Port used to command the wine world. It was born out of need more than anything else – in the 17th century, the war between England and France forced Englishman to seek a replacement to the French Claret. Portuguese wines were not great, tart and austere, and had a tendency to spoil in transit,  until someone discovered that the addition of Brandy can prevent the spoilage – and additional of Brandy during fermentation made wines to retain a lot more of the sugar, thus making them even more palatable.

In the middle of the 18th century, in 1756, the Douro region of Portugal (this is the region where Port is produced) became the first identified and protected wine-growing area in the world (take a note – this is a perfect fact to know for the next wine trivia night with friends). Another interesting trivia fact is that the first time Vintage port terminology was used in the wine auction catalog in 1773, to identify a bottle of an excellent 1765 Vintage Port. However, I don’t want to take you too far into Port types and styles – I wrote about it in the past so please refer to this article if you want to learn more.

Everything was going right for Port in the 18th and a good half of the 19th century until Douro vineyards received a “perfect” one-two punch – first, powdery mildew epidemic which started in 1848, followed by … yes, I’m sure you guessed it – the phylloxera hitting the vineyards in 1870. It was not until 1896 that the Douro vines were consistently grafted on phylloxera-resistant rootstock. From there on, Port started working on the comeback, but never reached its glory days of demand and appreciation.

Just to get a bit philosophical for a minute – you got time, you don’t mind, do you? I would say that there are three reasons why Port doesn’t have the attention it deserves nowadays.

First, the way we eat changed. One of the best “classic” pairings of Port is Port and stilton, the stinky, sharp cheese. Now, we lost the art of dinner where cheese is offered as a dessert course (by the way, forget traditions – there is a scientific explanation of why it makes perfect sense). At the best, cheese is considered an appetizer, often offered as part of the charcuterie board together with smoked and cured meats – but heavy and powerful Port is anything but an aperitive type beverage (I’m not talking about white Port – this is a separate category we are not discussing today).

Second, sweet = shame. We became extremely cautious about other people’s opinions towards us. Port is sweet. It is commonly appropriate to publicly despise sweet things, while secretly craving them. We are born with a love of sugar, and we need sugar as a source of energy – everything in moderation, of course. But outside of enjoying an actual dessert, and especially when it comes to the wine, we are trained to state how much we don’t like sweet, and we don’t enjoy sweet wines at all. “Oh no, I don’t drink sweet wines, no”. The pleasure of the wine is in the balance of the elements – sugar-loaded Sauternes, BA/TBA Rieslings, PX Sherries, Port – as long as the wine has enough acidity, it becomes an absolute pleasure, but we are too afraid to admit publicly that this is something we might be suspected of enjoying.

Third, we lost our ability to relax. You want to take your time with a glass of Port. The time stopped. You can just be, taking tiny sips from a glass, looking at the fire, flowers, or slow-rolling waves. Just be. But we can’t. There is always something new on the phone we need to attend to. We can’t just lose time relaxing. There is a new post to like, what relaxing are you talking about?

It is hard to properly introduce Symington Family Estates and explain its role in the Portuguese wine industry and the world of Port in particular. Symington Family Estates story started more than 130 years ago when Andrew James Symington arrived in Portugal at the age of 19. After spending some time at Graham’s Port, he started a Port shipping company under his name, which was the beginning of the family business.

It is impossible to represent the history of 5 generations of the Symington Family in a few sentences here – here is the link to the Symington Family Estates website where the history is presented in all the finest details. Over the years, Symington Family Estates acquired four of the Port producers –  Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn’s, as well as a number of wineries in the Douro Valley. Symington Family Estates owns 26 vineyards (Quintas) in the Douro Valley, a total of 2,255 ha (5,600 acres) of which 1,024 ha (2,560 acres) are under vine. All the vineyards are managed under a strict minimal intervention policy, and 260 acres are certified organic. Symington Family Estates is also a registered B Corporation, the first wine business in Portugal to receive such certification.

Enough about the business – let’s talk about the Port. I want to offer to you a choice of Port for all those quiet moments your heart desires.

First, the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port (20% ABV, $26, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca – with the addition of Tinta Amarella, Tinta Cão, Souzão, and Tinta Francisca from the mixed plantings). I had this port many times before but never paid attention to its story. It appears that in the old days, the grape symbols were used to represent the quality of wine in the individual barrels, from 1 to 6. Six grapes implied that the wine in the barrel had Vintage port potential, or effectively was of the highest quality. In the early 1900s, Graham’s started bottling such wines under its own “Six Grapes” label, and it continues to do so to this day.

This bottle had a recent redesign, now adorned with the red top, slick and beautiful. The Port was excellent – dark cherries and blackberries on the nose, blackberries, blueberries, and more of the dark cherries on the palate, with nice tannins in the finish. This wine ages in the oak barrels between one and two years, so the tannins overall are noticeable – and contrary to the general recommendation of chilling the Port slightly before serving, I don’t recommend it – the tannins on this wine become too pronounced and bitter. (Drinkability: 8).

Now, three more Ports from Dow’s, one of the original Symington holdings. The grapes for Dow’s Ports are harvested from some of the finest Quintas in Douro – Senhora da Ribeira and Bonfim, both supplying grapes for the Dow’s port for more than a century. Two of the Ports below are so-called Old Towny Ports, which means that the wines were undergoing a special wood aging regimen to reach their specific character. And another interesting tidbit – over the 10 years of aging, the Port barrel loses 25% of its original content. For the 20 years old Port, this number reaches 35% – while these Ports might seem to be pricey, you really need to appreciate the amount of labor and effort going into the creation of such a bottle.

Dow’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port (20% ABV, $39) – dry fruit and candy notes on the nose, a touch of mint. Hazelnuts  and dried figs on the palate, good acidity, overall delicious (Drinkability: 8)

Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (20% ABV, $67) – Powerful and complex nose – dried herbs, dried fruit, present but not overpowering, inviting and seductive. On the palate, beautifully integrated, with perfect acidity, dried fruit harmoniously balanced and intertwined. (Drinkability: 8+).

And the last wine for you for today – Late Bottled Vintage Port. Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV for short, is a very special category of Port. You see, in Portugal, each and every type of wine should be approved to be released in its category by the IVDP, the regulatory body. If a company wants to declare a vintage year for a Port, it needs to request approval for that from IVDP. If such approval is not granted, the company can proceed with such a Port either in the path of the Old Tawny (the Ports we just discussed) or it might age it for some time and then declare it an LBV.

2016 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port (20% ABV, $26, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, 4-6 years in seasoned oak before release) comes from a difficult vintage – warm winter, cold spring, one of the hottest and rainiest summers on record. Dry, sunny weather before harvest helped quite a bit, and the result was tasty and powerful Port – tart and sweet cherries on the nose, a hint of dried figs on the palate, cherries, good acidity, nicely present tannins on the finish. (Drinkability: 8).

Here you are, my friends. You can be honest with yourself – it is okay to enjoy well-made, sweet, but balanced, harmonious wines. And one way or the other, we all need our quiet moments. So get a bottle of Port, get comfy, and just enjoy your being. At least for a few moments.

  1. December 21, 2021 at 7:34 am

    Hope you can try an Australian Para Port, one from the 30’s or 40’s one day! I have few bottles left.

    • December 21, 2021 at 10:02 am

      I would love to. Australian Para Port is a stuff of the legend.

  1. December 23, 2021 at 11:48 pm

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