Kopke Fine Tawny Port
We’re mixing it up this year and adding a dessert wine into the mix. And what better way to do that than with Port. I don’t know about you but Port says the holidays to me. When I was a kid we would leave out cookies and port for Santa because according to my dad he needed a break from all that milk.
Much like Champagne, that can only truly be called Champagne if it comes from Champagne, France, Port only comes from one place in the world, Portugal. Portugal is a country on the western edge of Spain that is steeped in tradition in large part because of its famous wine. A wine which, in most cases, is still produced using methods that are centuries old. Port is a fortified wine that is both high in residual sugar and high in alcohol.
Historically it is known as the quintessential man’s drink. It was brought out at the end of the meal after the women left the room and served with obligatory cigars. As a woman who grew up drinking Port, I am happy to report that women have decided not to leave the room anymore.
Port comes from only one place in the world. And it is a harsh and unforgiving stretch of earth that spans 70 miles around the Douro River valley. The fact that grapes manage to grow here at all is almost inconceivable. The soil is barely soil at all but mostly solid rock comprised of schist and granite. What little soil is there has been painstakingly created from the rock or transported there by hand over the years?
However, this soil, though difficult for the farmers, is actually one of the reasons the vines do grow well there. Because this rock drains water extremely well, it forces the vines to extend deep into the ground to find a stable source of water. This creates not only more flavorful grapes but also more stable vines. And they will need that stability to survive in the blazing temperatures of summer. In fact, the summers in the Douro are infamous for their heat. At times the temperatures rise so high that the vines actually temporarily shut down during the hottest hours of the day and then reawaken during the night.
Port may be forever tied to Portugal, but it also owes a great deal of its lineage to Britain. All the famous Port firms were started by men with very properly British last names like Sandman, Graham, Dow, and Warre. These men were not only the founders of these prestigious firms. They were also one of the biggest reasons Port came into existence. Due to rising conflicts and the Hundred Years War relations between England and France were fraught. And it gravely impacted the import of French wines into Britain. Instead, the English turned to wines from Spain and Portugal to satisfy their wine needs.
These wines however needed to travel a greater distance to reach England than the wines from France. In order to prevent spoilage, these wines were fortified for their journey with neutral grape spirits. At first, the amount of spirits that were added to the wine was small. But then came the vintage of 1820. The wines from this year were dark and ripe and naturally sweet, and they sold incredibly well. Port shippers desperately wanted to recreate the success of that vintage so they started adding my brandy to the wine.
Port is almost always a blend of different varietals. The top five grape varietals in Port are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao, Touriga Francesa, and Tinta Rosa. Of all these grapes Touriga Nacional is the most prominent, it produces wines of intense color, flavor, and aroma. But even if Touriga Nacional is the preeminent varietal, blending is what gives Port its complexity.
How Port Is Made
To make port these grapes are crushed and then put into a special automated tank to macerate. After the grapes have been in that tank for about 24 hours, fermentation begins and the sugars in the grape start to convert to alcohol. However, when this process is about halfway completed natural grape spirits (brandy) that are about 150 proof are added to the mixture. The alcohol from the spirits causes the yeast in the wine to die. This arrests fermentation and results in a wine that has about 10% residual sugar and 20% alcohol. The next phase involves aging the wine. This part, however, can be done in a number of different ways as there are about ten different styles of Port and each style is matured and aged differently.
These Ports are designated on the label as either ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years old. They are typically a blend of several years that have been left in the barrel until they take on a nutty, vanilla flavor and soft texture. The grapes used in these wines are of the highest quality and from the top vineyards in the region.In fact, these are the same grapes that would go into Vintage Port. Vintage Port is the second style we are going to talk about. It is produced only when a vintage year is declared. Though Vintage Port only represents an extremely small portion of the total production of Port, it is some of the most sought after and expensive.
Port is a rich, sweet, and powerful wine. It’s flavor profile changes based on the style in which it is made but it typically has flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum, prune, fig, anise, violet, truffle, nutmeg, and clove. And while we no longer live in a time where the women leave the room after dinner, this is very much an after-dinner drink, whether served all on its own or with dessert.
The Kopke Port House has been around since 1638, it was the first and oldest port house. Founded by Nicolau Kopke who immigrated from Hamburg Germany to Portugal in 1936, just two years later the first bottles of Port were shipped to North America.
Crack this bottle open after dinner or better yet leave a glass out for Santa with your favorite holiday cookies just to make sure the big guy gets a break from dairy.