Port without an “o” at the end is the rest of the world imitating porto. Porto is a fortified dessert wine—which means a distilled spirit, such as vodka, has been added to wine to stop fermentation and raise the alcohol. The process retains some sugar while increasing the “proof,” therefore stabilizing the product—done originally so the British could ship it around their empire and it wouldn’t go bad en route. Anglophilic names still appear on most of the best porto houses. Beer drinkers will note the historic parallel to India pale ale. There are several porto styles—all made only in Portugal—and they vary in price greatly, but the general idea is a sweet, rich, robust dessert wine.
This month’s selections are available at Old Vine Wine & Spirits, Mall Of America, Bloomington, 952-858-8800
Dow’s “White” Porto NV, $14.99
White porto is an odd little number. Sweet, but crisp like an apple; simple, but with a nutty complexity that gives it body and a long finish. This is the only porto I would ever use to start the evening. Have your guests try something new and serve it on ice with a twist.
Cockburn’s 10 Year Tawny Porto, $27.99
These wines are blended Porto from several vintages, aged to perfection in the barrel. This allows them to pick up character, color, and depth. The longer a porto remains in the barrel, the more complex and pricier it will be. Tawny tends to be the Scotch–lover’s porto, while ruby and vintage portos tend to please red wine lovers.
Dow’s Ruby Porto NV, $14.99
This wine is blended for a “house” style and is the most affordable of the portos. With bright fruit and telling ruby color, it’s a great way to try porto and not break the bank. Enjoy it with a piece of chocolate cake.
Warre’s 1994 LBV Porto, $29.99
There are several styles of “late bottled vintage” porto. Some, such as this one, are bottle-aged and unfiltered, while others are aged for an extended time in the barrel and then filtered before bottling. The idea is to impart the taste and quality of vintage porto at a more affordable price. (The vintage is the year the grapes were grown.) LBV is richer and more complex than ruby, but not as “big” as vintage.
Dow’s Crusted Porto NV (bottled 1999), $28.99
Crusted is my favorite porto. It tends to have a “rough around the edges” appeal, like Errol Flynn and Hemingway sitting around smoking a cigar and being themselves. Crusted porto is aged and unfiltered like vintage. Add a big chunk of dark chocolate, and it’s like a party in your mouth.