Port Part Two

After finishing my bottle of Old Cave port just before New Year's, I decided to read up on the subject.  I won't bother giving details here: basically, I read the Wikipedia article. I'll start, though, with the most basic fact: port is made by adding (neutral) brandy to fermenting wine. This stops the fermentation process, leaving much of the sugar from the grapes, giving it the sweet taste... and upping the alcohol content significantly. (Brandy is distilled wine, and has a very high alcohol content.) I also did a little hunting and came up with a "to try" list of ports, ranging across the spectrum of types and labels.

I was showing this list to a friend of mine on New Years, and he decided he and I were going to each buy a bottle--this was around 10:00--and try it.We zipped over to his packing store of choice (he's a Scotch drinker and his wife like cocktails), and looked around... they had an excellent selection. He settled on a Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV), though I had to convince him that buying an actual Vintage would be (relatively speaking) a waste of money. Basically--a vintage is a "true" port: a single harvest of grapes, aged for about 18 months, then bottled. They tend to be very expensive because of their limited supply. LBVs, on the other hand, are created when a harvest for vintage wine was not in high enough demand, and so the port sat in the cask longer than 18 months.  It's still a single harvest, but it has a "nuttier" taste because of the extra time with the oak.

I grabbed a sexy-looking bottle of ruby, since this meant that we'd be able to try three of the four common varieties of port (because the bottle he'd gotten me for xmas was a tawny--a mixture of several harvests, each aged for decades).  Ruby is a very different kind of port: not aged in oak casks at all. It does not improve with age.

 We did this because we're both aware of a very nice tawny, and wanted to try these other (common, cheaper) varieties of port.

The LBV he picked up was Taylor Fladgate 2000, which cost $23, and we opened that first because I assured him it would be the better of the two. And, indeed, it was fantastic. Both of us took our first sips and just smiled and said "wow". We immediately agreed that this was much better than the tawny (which is also superb, mind you). Much smoother, much more satisfying. Not nearly as complex, though... and nothing of, as they say, "a finish". It's just a great-tasting drink.  : ) The tawny is something you drink in tiny sips over a long period of time, because the best part is the aftertaste... but this LBV was something you could drink much faster.  Sipping is still appropriate, but it's not long before the taste fades.

Absolutely worth the $23. I'll certainly be buying a bottle of it when I have a chance, and I recommend it even more highly than the Old Cave.  It's something everyone who might like port should try.

The second bottle (the one I bought) was a $20 Graham's Six Grapes (which is ruby. Rubies don't have a year or age designation because it doesn't really matter.) I went in expecting this to be a much simpler drink, probably with a bright red color.  I was a little surprised at just how dark it poured out, though: maroon, not red, and very opaque. It was noticably thicker than the other two... really thick legs on this one. A very sexy-looking drink.  : ) ...But I'll admit, it didn't impress me nearly as much as the Taylor. It was even further down the "drinkable" spectrum than the LBV: this was essentially grape juice with a kick. ; ) My friend said "I could drink an entire bottle of this"... and that's true: it's very easy to drink. I'll admit I enjoyed it (and even more so as the the glass emptied), but I won't buy this again: it lacks the intricacy of the others that are what drew me to port in the first place. My friend claimed he liked this one more than the Taylor, but I find that hard to believe. I think he was being nice.  ; ) (And, as evidence, he poured himself a second glass of the LBV an hour later.  Heh.)

The last thing he said was "it's hard to believe these three drinks are from the same family"... which may be slightly over-stated (they're all sweet, strong wines) but has some truth to it: they are three very different experiences. The ruby is just a great drink, the LBV's a perfect dessert drink, and the tawny is a sipping experience. And, from what I've learned, they are three very different methods to create... so I think it's fair to say they should get a bit more recognition as separate entities.  There's probably as much difference between them as between any of the "types" of wine out there (of which I am ignorant, sorry).

So... one of my resolutions this year is to try a list of new ports: about one a month (my ports-to-try list is 14 items long). While I have no urge to become "a drinker" (despite more drinking in a week than I've done in my entire life, I've still never been drunk*), there are some ostensible health benefits, and I do enjoy the occasional experience.  ; )

* Actually, on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day, I ended up with "a buzz"... which was a first. I doubt I'll get to that point again, though.

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