Friday, 23 October 2009

Sweet as a ... Dessert Wine

I know there are red and white wines. I also know that port, sherry and some other 'after dinner' wines are, well, essentially wines.
I can pronounce the names of a few grapes. Cabernet, merlot, pinot noir and so on.

Some port wines have a beautiful ruby color

However, the bulk of my wine knowledge is made up on the spur of the moment! "This wine tastes rather fruity with a hint of chocolate – can you not taste the oak flavour? 2001 was a good year wasn't it?!"
Making things up and having the odd glass of wine helps to keep the creative juices flowing.
Having tried a Muscato sweet wine recently and being a lukewarm fan of Rieslings (I didn't make up the name) I thought the time to better understand dessert wines has arrived.
Among the best known of dessert wines are port. Like most dessert wines, port is a fortified wine. 
"Fortified wine is wine to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added. When added to wine before the fermentation process is complete, the alcohol in the distilled beverage kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind."
Port is a fortified, sweet red wine. It is made from grapes grown in a northern province of Portugal, the Douro Valley. It typically has an alcohol content of 20%.
Port is not made using brandy but a neutral grape spirit known as Aguardente (literally meaning firewater). It received its name from the seaport city of Porto, the city from where the wine was exported and marketed to the rest of the world.

There are many varieties of port. Below, I describe two varieties, 'Vintage Port' and 'Tawny.'
As the name implies, Vintage Ports are made from good vintages and bottled after a few years in a cask. Vintage Port generally requires ageing before it can be enjoyed.
Tawny port has been aged for a long time in wooden barrels. Generally, the longer Tawny is fermented the lighter it becomes. The Colheitas are an especially popular variety of Tawny Port in Portugal. Colheitas are often aged up to twenty years.
Port is a classic after dinner drink (combined with cheese) which is just as delicious on its own. I can't remember when I last had a glass of port but I am looking forward to my next glass – just so I can show off my 'genuine' knowledge of the drink to my friends!
PS - If you have any recommendations of particular port varieties or bottles please do share the specifics with the rest of us ... or any combination of food and port which is particularly enjoyable.
PPS – In future posts, I will examine Sherry and other dessert wines.

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