Port wine is synonymous with the holidays in England — the perfect fireside sipper after a soul-filling roast. So how did a fortified wine for the Douro Valley in Portugal become an English obsession? During their wars with France in the early 1700s, the British were forced to forgo claret from Bordeaux, and as a replacement started importing a sweet red wine from the town of Oporto (from whence Port gets its name), which was stabilized with the addition of brandy to keep it from spoiling in transit.
Port wine is best enjoyed in a small, delicate glass, with a little dark chocolate or roasted nuts and cheeses — and above all, it is to be savored rather than swilled. Give it as a host gift, and you’ll not only stand out from the crowd, but you’ll be giving a bottle that will likely last into 2022. However you choose to enjoy it, Port is a noble drink with a rich history that deserves a place in your holiday repertoire. Here, with the help of some beverage experts, are a few excellent bottles of Port wine — and one bottle Madeira, a close Port cousin — to seek out.
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Bottled later than vintage port – spending four-to-six years in oak casks instead of two — the extra time makes LBV Port wine ready to drink when it’s bottled, unlike the vintage which needs to remain in the bottle for decades before it’s ready for the decanter. And like most Ports on this list, it pairs well with dark chocolate and rich cheeses.
This Reserve Ruby Port spends a short time in the cask, about 1-2 years, which gives is a fresh, dark fruit character that would appeal to those who tend to prefer New World red wines over Old. Maria Lawton, Portuguese expat culinary ambassador and cookbook author prefers the smoothness of the Ruby Port and says that growing up Portuguese, Port wine was always saved for special occasions and holidays.
Churchill’s was founded four decades ago by Johnny Graham, of the Graham’s Port family. His daughter and American son-in-law now work alongside him, bringing a fresh perspective to a product steeped in tradition. This dry aperitif is barrel aged 10 years, on average, in order to develop layers of complexity. Good as a sipper, and also as a cocktail with tonic and a twist of orange.
Younger Port wines can lack complexity and older ports can lack fruit, but this two-decade Tawny offers a perfect balance of fruit and complexity – ready to enjoy upon purchase. For the holidays, Tawny and Late Bottled Vintage are the way to go, says Justin Coleman, the sommelier-owner of Monarch Wine Merchants in Charleston, SC.
Niepoort Tawny is made of hand-picked and foot-trodden grapes, aged three and a half years in small, old oak casks. It has a balanced flavor that pairs well with chocolate, cheeses, and red meat. It’s inexpensive, classic old-school Port wine, says Coleman.
BONUS: One great bottle of Madeira
Also infused with Brandy but hailing from a Portuguese Island due West of Morocco, Madeira is a close cousin of Port wine, exposed to heat during its aging process, which adds a different dimension of flavor. Madeira, Master Sommelier Anthony Anselmi told Fatherly, is all about vibrancy and the sweetness is secondary to the mouthwatering effect Madeira has on your palate. Port is luscious, sweet and cloying; Maderia is vibrant, nutty and rich. Created by the Madeira producer Barbeito, the New York Malmsey is part of an Historic Series named for American Cities – and has a richness particularly suited for holiday revelry.