February is a very romantic month. Valentine’s Day and cool winter nights set the stage, and wine plays the principal supporting role.
Perhaps the most romantic wine is Port, which is ideal for winter thanks to the warmth of brandy added during winemaking.
Port traditionally comes from the Douro region of northern Portugal, where it is made from many red grape varieties and shipped from its namesake city of Oporto. Today, other countries produce similar wines often labeled as Port or tasting Port-like.
One of the best known styles of Port is Tawny, which is named for its amber color. Tawny Ports are blends of several vintages. Most common are “10 Year” and “20 Year” Tawny Ports. They increase in quality and price with more vintages in the blend.
The other well-known Port style is more fruit forward. It is exemplified by Vintage Port, which is made from the grapes of single vintage. However, other, less expensive, non-vintage Ports also have this style.
Ports cost about the same as other wines, but they can be great bargains. Servings are generally small (because of the higher alcohol content), so bottles last longer. Plus, all except Vintage Port hold their quality far longer after opening than regular wines, even a few weeks (check the winery’s website).
Here are several of the better Ports I’ve tasted recently. All are for 750 ml bottles unless stated otherwise.
R. L. Buller non-vintage Tawny Port “Victoria, Australia” ($17). This wonderfully priced wine has a bit more ripe fruit flavor than most Tawnies. It is surprisingly polished for the price with very good balance and complexity, as well as an impressively long finish.
Croft non-vintage Port “Pink, Porto” ($20). Pink Port? Yes, it surprised me too. Sipping it is very interesting, as the eyes say “rosé”, while the taste buds say “Port”. Strong on nose and, but with lighter tannins than a regular Port. Good length. Is this the beginning of a new trend in Port?
Heitz non-vintage Port “Ink Grade, Napa Valley” ($20; 375 ml). Made from Portuguese grape varieties, this Californian impresses with its power on the nose and strength on the palate featuring smooth texture, full body, medium-soft tannins, rich fruit and an extended finish.
Fonseca non-vintage Port “Bin 27, Finest Reserve, Porto” ($21). Reserve Port signifies an upgrade from a Ruby Port and this was among the most forward I tasted. I loved its strength and complexity on the nose and its fine balance and long-lingering length on the palate.
Dow’s 2011 Late Bottled Vintage Port “Porto” ($25). Late Bottled Vintage Ports offer some of the best values in Port, and this is certainly a fine one. Its strong nose features potent complexity, while the palate is impressed by rich fruit well-framed by medium-soft tannins.
Taylor Fladgate non-vintage “10 Year Tawny, Porto” ($32). Tawny Ports can be an acquired taste, but this one offers an impressive introduction. Amber in color, it features strength and complexity on both nose and palate with excellent balance, medium to soft tannins, and a lengthy finish.
Meyer Family non-vintage “Family Port, California” ($35; 500 ml). Made from a blend of over 20 vintages, this very attractive wine has a potent nose expressing great complexity. Very strong on the palate, but refined with excellent texture that lingers throughout a much-extended finish.
Graham’s non-vintage “10 Year Tawny, Porto” ($36). One of the best-known names in Port, this Tawny excels across the board, from fine color depth to a powerful nose, as well as very good to excellent strength, complexity, integration and refinement, all ending in a long-lingering finish.
Sandeman non-vintage “20 Year Tawny, Porto” ($50). 20 year Tawny is a step up in quality, and this exceptional example has great strength and striking complexity on nose and palate. Highly expressive, featuring excellent integration and refinement, as well as a seemingly unending finish.
Hawk and Horse 2012 Port style “Latigo, Red Hills, Lake County” ($50; 375 ml). The style is that of Late Bottled Vintage Port with fine quality. Richly sweet with strong fruit, but also very well-balanced with fine, crisp acidity. The finish is outstandingly long and very pleasing. Available from hawkandhorsevineyards.com.
Frank Family non-vintage Port “Napa Valley” ($65; 375 ml). Oh my! This beauty excels on nose and palate with graceful yet powerful fruit. Medium-soft tannins pair with fruit to produce a beautifully textured, heavenly decadent wine with a long-persisting finish. A personal favorite.
Swanson non-vintage dessert wine “Mission, Angelica, Amador County” ($150). Made from the Mission grape grown in a vineyard planted in 1856, this distinctive wine is exceptionally appealing. There’s great complexity on nose and palate but the emphasis is on extraordinary refinement. Wonderful with milk chocolate. Available from www.swansonvineyards.com/product/ANGELICA1).