Off the Vine: Try a Port in any storm

October 17, 2012 

When the word "Port" is mentioned, many think of an after-dinner drink to be shared among friends along with a good cigar, but in my opinion the cigar ruins the flavors and nuances of a truly good Port wine.

Port gets its name from the seaport city of Porto, at the mouth of the Douro River which traverses all of Portugal and well into Spain. The grapes used to make Port hail from the Douro Valley, in the northern region of Portugal. In order for a wine to be called a Port, it must be a product of Portugal.

So exactly what is a Port? It is a fortified wine, meaning that a distilled spirit was added to the grape must (the newly pressed grape juice along with skin and seeds) during the fermentation process. Usually, the alcohol that is added is a Brandy (which is a distilled grape spirit) and the additional alcohol stops the fermentation of the must, thereby killing the yeast and leaving residual sugar in the wine. This residual sugar is why a Port is so sweet, and the addition of Brandy increases the alcohol content. Most regular wines today contain between 13 and 15 percent alcohol by volume, compared to Ports which generally contain around 20 percent.

There are a number of different types of Port wines, such as Ruby Port, Tawny Port, Vintage Port and Colheita -- just to name a few. A Ruby Port is a blend of wines from more than one vintage that are aged for a total of three years and are designed to have a consistent flavor every year. In order to qualify as a Tawny Port, it has to be made from red grapes aged in

wood barrels and the number of years represents the minimum time in the barrel.

On the other hand, a Tawny Port from a single vintage (or year) is called a Colheita and it is still aged in wood until bottled, while a Vintage Port usually only spends 18 months in wood barrels, before being bottled and then ages in the bottle.

Cockburn's was founded in 1815 by a Scotsman named Robert Cockburn, who had originally gone to Portugal to fight in the Peninsular War and produces all types of Port. In 1969, Cockburn's became the first Port house to produce a Special Reserve Port, which is between a Ruby Port and a Vintage Port, and is aged in oak for four to five years. Upon opening the Cockburn's Special Reserve, I could detect a fairly concentrated aroma of red cherries, followed by red fruit flavors with a hint of spice on the finish. This port retails for approximately $17 and pairs nicely with a molten chocolate dessert.

One benefit of Port wines is that they last for quite some time once opened, mainly due to the fact that the addition of alcohol (Brandy) acts as a preservative and this should last six to eight weeks after being opened.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at

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