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Pass the port – the perfect winter warmer that’s not just for Christmas


With the onset of winter – and the festive season fast approaching – Times Drinks Editor James Viner says it’s time to pass the port. Here are six of his favourite fortified wines from Portugal’s sun-baked north-eastern Douro region…

 

All port is fortified to an alcoholic strength between 19–22% abv. The vast majority of ports, even vintage ones, are complex blends of diverse grape varieties grown in various sites, although five principal small-berried, thick-skinned black grape varieties dominate premium port production and seem especially well-adjusted to weather the Douro’s scorching heat, penetrating sun, and droughts.

From a value-for-money unfiltered Sandeman LBV (late bottled vintage) to a 40-year-old tawny sourced by Aldi, here’s a pre-Christmas tour of six exquisite and flavoursome ports to whet the appetite and warm you up this winter. Try these…

 

1) Like-a-million-dollars unfiltered and rich, late bottled vintage port

Sandeman traditional late bottled vintage (LBV) 2016 (£15.99, but save 25% off 6+ bottles until 15/11/2022, Waitrose, Alc 20.5%)

Red and black-fruited LBV ports are vintage wines (ie from a single year) that have been aged around four to six years in old oak vessels.

Unlike most other LBVs (and similar in this respect to vintage port), this top-tier example is unfiltered, making it one for your busy decanter – you don’t want a muddy glassful.

With crowd-pleasing, luscious, bright red/dark forest fruits, cocoa, spice and a little dark chocolate, you get a lot of bang for your buck with Sandeman’s superior, full-bodied, inky LBV. You can spend three times this price and not end up with a wine as complete and rewarding as this one. A thoroughbred port from a classic year at a giveaway price. It’s tailor-made for Stilton and Stichelton and spot-on too for steak au poivre, roast beef, game dishes and chocolate desserts.

 

2) Captivating ‘crusted’ port that’s perfect for blue cheese

The Society’s Exhibition Crusted NV Port, Bottled 2013 (£17.50, The Wine Society, Alc 20%)

Non-vintage ‘crusted’ ports are blended wines (in this case fine young Ports from the 2009, 2010 and, universally declared, 2011 vintages) that are aged in wood for up to two years before being bottled without fining or filtration. During this period, they will throw a deposit (the ‘crust’), so you’ll want to decant this one. This dark fruit, spiced fruitcake and plum-scented port is a marvel with salty Colston Bassett Stilton and mature farmhouse Cheddar.

Ready to drink now but will continue to develop in bottle. Serve cool, 12-16ºC. Once opened, drink within five days.

 

3) A majestic, supple, soft and black-fruited port that’s a tremendous treat

Croft Quinta da Roêda 2004 (£18.99-£21.99, Majestic mix 6 and Whisky Exchange, Alc 20.5%)

This is an extraordinarily good value, earlier-maturing version of vintage port from the important beautiful wine farm (just north of Pinhão) responsible for Croft’s ports. Drinking it feels like diving into a deep pool of plums, raspberries, liquorice, raisins, dark chocolate, spice, rocks and mulberries. Serve around 15-16ºC (i.e., not too warm) and decant, checking for sediment in the last dregs, and consume within 48 hours. Lovely drinking!

 

4) Vibrant Vintage Port

Tesco Finest Vintage Port 2003 (£20, Tesco, Alc 20%)

For most producers ‘vintage’ port, a blend of the finest wines from the best vineyards from one ‘declared’ vintage, is their flagship wine, usually the most sought-after and also the most expensive. It’s made only in exceptional years (around three times a decade). This is a gorgeous, dark chocolate dried fruit and plum-laden example from renowned Symington Family Estates, the biggest landowner in the Douro Valley. It was aged just two years in large old casks before extensive bottle ageing and delivers stunning complexity for the price. One for the decanter – but drink within two days of opening. Bring on the Stilton and Gorgonzola! Purchase now for Christmas as Tesco’s stocks won’t last much longer I suspect!

 

5) Captivating dated tawny port (‘Colheita’) from the oldest port wine house

Kopke Colheita 1999 Tawny Port (£32.99, Waitrose, but save 25% off 6+ bottles until 15/11/2022, Alc 20%)

Costing less than bottle-aged vintage ports, colheitas are single vintage tawnies aged in small casks for a minimum of seven years with a wide array of colours ranging from golden red to tawny, depending on their age. This 1999 offering from Kopke, the oldest port house (established 1638), is tangy and sublime. Think nuts, caramel, red fruits, Christmas spices, mocha and mixed peel. Serve around 14-16ºC. No need to decant.

 

6) Venerable, oxidatively aged, premium tawny port

Fletcher’s 40-Year-Old Tawny NV Port, Barão de Vilar (£39.99, Aldi, Alc 20%)

For value, it’s hard to look past the remarkable Fletcher’s 40-Year-Old tawny port produced for Aldi by Barão de Vilar. Nutmeg, coffee, walnut, dried fruit, demerara sugar, orange peel, chocolate, caramel and aged honey flavours all come together in this aged tawny port. I could well imagine it at the end of a meal with salted almonds and crème brûlée – or perhaps just enjoying the naked sip, as an after-dinner experience all of its own. Well worth the price – most tawnies this age are over £100 a bottle!



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