When musing about favorite wines, you might be more likely to call out a chardonnay, pinot noir, or Riesling. But there’s one wine that flies under the radar and is often relegated to a tiny corner on store shelves: port.
If you’ve even heard of it, it likely didn’t make your top five favorite wines, but I’m here to introduce (or reintroduce) to you a complex and historic wine that practically begs to be sipped on these cold, wintry nights.
Port originates from Portugal, with ancient evidence of the wine dating back to the 4th century A.D., according to information from For the Love of Port, an online collective of local and global port aficionados. During the winemaking process, a spirit (such as brandy) is added to halt further fermenting, which creates a sweet dessert or aperitif wine. It has a higher alcohol content, generally ranging between 19 and 21 percent of alcohol per volume — an attribute that can create a smoldering undertone.
I was first introduced to port at Water’s Table at the Hyatt Regency at Southport. The waiter recommended a 20-year-old Taylor Fladgate port for dessert and, not knowing really what that meant, I obliged. He looked taken aback when I told him that if I returned for anything, it would be the port. It was that good. Taylor Fladgate’s vintage tawny port was rich and smooth, and it opened my eyes to a type of wine I never knew about. Plus, it inspired me to try Washington-made port wines.
There’s one technical naming nuance to ports, and that is that the U.S. and the European Union made an agreement that after 2006, winemaker brands could no longer label a wine as port, because “Port” is a geographical name. Winemakers that were already making ports, however, could continue to label them that way.
Without further ado, here are some local ports that I’m fond of. Just like other varieties, they can taste quite different from maker to maker, so I suggest trying a few.
2013 Opulento, Brian Carter Cellars — $22
Aromas of raspberry, cherry, and chocolate with hints of almond and orange peel, and notes of chocolate and berry fruits.
2017 Post Time Port, Love That Red Winery — $45
A Ruby-style port, this blend is rich and smooth with a semi-sweet dessert cordial.
2012 Quinta de la Dolce Bella, Michael Florentino — $22
The Primitivo Port has bright strawberry and red licorice notes with a little spice as well as Bing cherry, blackberry, and leather.
2017 Sinful Barbera port, Leony’s Cellars — $35
Fortified with brandy made from Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, this port has dark cherry, raspberry, and chocolate notes.
Rainy Day Fine Tawny Port, Hinzerling Winery — $39
Aromas of hazelnuts and plums with notes of golden raisin, caramel, and maple syrup.