CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'm sure many of you toasted the New Year with sparkling wine. I did, but my choice for après champagne is something that will warm the cockles of your heart and soul even more than your favorite celebratory bubbly.
Today, I'm going to regale you with information about port -- my favorite wintertime beverage that is sure to take the edge off this frigid winter.
Some would suggest that port, like scotch, is an acquired taste. If so, I've acquired it! And I'm convinced that once you try the stuff with a good blue cheese or a handful of walnuts, you'll be hooked too. But first, let's take a look at the history of port and how the wine is produced.
Port -- or porto, as it is called in Portugal, where it is produced -- is made from a variety of grapes grown along the steep slopes of Douro River. There are more than 80 varieties of grapes which are permitted to be used in the production of port, but most producers use fewer than 10. The most prominent port grapes are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarela. Rolls right off the tongue, no?
The center of port production is the town of Oporto, where the wine is sold to companies (called shippers) that age it, label it under their house name and then export it all over the world.
Port is fortified, which means that brandy is added to the fermenting wine. This causes the fermentation to stop, leaving about 10 percent residual sugar in the wine and also boosting the alcohol to about 20 percent. While port was produced in mainly a dry style for centuries, today's sweet version was popularized by the British in the middle of the 18th century. Many shippers are also British companies.
There are also some very good port-style wines produced in other countries, most notably Australia and the U.S. Two of my favorite tawny ports are produced in these two countries, and I list them below.
Port is made in several styles, among which are:
Vintage port: This is the best and most-expensive style and is produced only in exceptional years (only about three years a decade). A "vintage year" is usually declared by an agreement among the shippers, and the wines are given special care and aging.