The secrets of wine from Porto

Port wine has a robust to extravagant flavor, which is based on the juice from red grapes stabilized with alcohol. The first taste may cause uncertainty, but when you succumb to it – what a delight!


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Port is much, much stronger than table wine, so you sip it slowly. You savor it drop by drop like cough medicine. After you recork an open bottle, you can enjoy its contents for weeks, even months. Thanks to this unusual property, port is a companion that every household should have, maybe only because you can offer it to unexpected visitors.
Port wine was born in the 17th century, literally out of necessity. Putting it politely, the British were angry with their French neighbors, who were being coy about exporting wines from Bordeaux, so the British appealed to the Portuguese royalty. On the slopes around the Douro river they discovered an “extraordinarily smooth potion” and in exchange for it they promised the Portuguese help against an expanded Spain and regular deliveries of high-quality fabrics. But during transport the contents of the kegs started going bad in the hot holds of sailboats…so sailors poured in brandy to stabilize it. These days, a bottle of nearly 80% alcohol not only stops the fermentation, it also maintains the natural sugar, resulting in a sweet, fortified wine with 18 to 22% alcohol content to which table wine, at 11% to 13%, can’t hold a candle.
There are a surprising number of port types, which you best become aware of in the port city of Porto. “Ruby” has the lowest degree of cultivation, and it exudes a wild, all that much more captivating, loutishness. The fruity flavor and high alcohol content can leave you with a really bad headache, so it’s safer to drink the more velvety and balanced “Tawny”. You can recognize it by its brownish red color and nutty, raisin-like flavor, with an occasional note of vanilla. Like Ruby, it is aged in kegs for three years, but because of the small size of the kegs it oxidized more quickly and absorbed more of the kegs’s woodiness. You can also encounter Tawny’s relative, “Colheita”. This is likewise a high-quality single-vintage wine, but it is aged in kegs for at least seven years. A step above is LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage, bottled in the fourth to seventh year after the harvest, and it can be either filtered or mature after it has been corked.
And finally there is “Vintage”. Its exceptionality starts with the fact that it is produced only in extraordinarily successful seasons and continues with permits for its production having to be under the aegis of the Vinho do Porto institute. Vintage is bottled between the 2nd and 3rd year after harvest, without filtration, and it’s immediately taken to dark cellars with controlled humidity and temperature, where it can spend dozens of years in monkish meditation.
Just as people mature with age, this wine also becomes balanced and smooth with time. In the meantime, the sediment settles in the bottles, so it must be properly decanted after opening, a great ritual in and of itself. It is Vintage that attracts wine aficionados who can speak and write about it with passion until they’re completely drunk.

The author is the deputy editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine.


 

TOOLBOX

  Photo: Věroslav Sixt

Super shaker:
If you’re entertaining cocktail lovers, or just feeling a bit James Bond-ish, this 500 ml stainless steel shaker will come in handy. Price: CZK 1,527

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COCKTAIL 

  Photo: Věroslav Sixt

PORT BLUE LIGHT

Hardly anyone could imagine a white wine called port, and it didn’t even exist until 1934. It was then put on the market by Taylor’s, and today all port producers make it. White port, which is served in Portugal with lemon and tonic as an aperitif, also works well in cocktails like the Port Blue Light. Put 4 cl in a shaker filled with ice, add 3 cl of brandy and 1 cl of blue curacoa, add a dash of angostura bitters, and strain into cocktail glasses.

Photographed in cooperation with hotel Radisson SAS Alcro

 


OUR TIPS

Burmester Vintage Port 95
A purple wine with a full bouquet and long persistence. It has a marmalade aroma of fruits and is imbibed alone or with matured cheeses. It should be consumed within 24 hours of opening, and must be decanted.
Price: cca 1800 Kč

Cálem Colheita 1989 Reserve
After at least seven years of aging it achieves the characteristics of Tawny wines. Its virtue is its lovely aroma and amazing color. It goes very well with chocolate desserts and fruity cakes, or chilled with meat dishes.
Price: cca 1340 Kč

Quinta da Seara d’Ordens VINTAGE 2000
Made from grapes processed by traditional foot pressing in granite tubs, this port goes beautifully with red meats. It should be served at about 16° C (60° F) and should be consumed by the second day.
Price: cca 1000 Kč

Vista Alegre 10 YEARS TAWNY
Its aroma is reminiscent of vanilla, caramel, and honey, and forms a semi-sweet impression combined with a light dryness on the palate.
Price: cca 700 Kč

Sandeman Porto White
A white wine aperitif with a dry but with lingering natural sweetness, and a fruity aroma with a touch of vanilla. A good base for cocktails.
Price: 330 Kč


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