Royal Oporto Vintage Port, 2004

I am a dessert wine kind of guy. Not a “give me some of that wine with my Snickers” guy, rather a “stop, wait – with dinner over, let us retire to the crackling fire and wait for the snow to stop falling with glasses of Tokaji” kind of guy. Noting that it had been some while since my last post, and noting I that almost never review dessert wines, I decided to try some port.

Port is a wine with an extremely dynamic and varied past. The appellation where it is produced, the Douro Valley region of Portugal, was demarcated in 1763, making it the third-oldest appellation in the world, after Chianti and Tokaji – two of my other favorite places. Usually a sweet red dessert wine, and is always the result of blending a wide number of grape varieties – up to one hundred types of grape are permitted, but principally Touriga Nacional (Tempranillo), Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa are used, as in the wine under discussion for this post. Fermentation is stopped using a neutral grape spirit called aguardente, which leaves residual sugar in the wine while also boosting alcohol content. The wine is then stored in oak barrels in caves, or cellars, for differing periods of time, depending on the final wine being produced.

It seems appropriate to briefly examine the most common types of Port available:

Tawny Port – this style is produced from red grapes aged in oaken barrels using the Solera process, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation, resulting in a golden-brown color. Aging in oak imparts nutty flavors and aromas to this type of port, which is blended to match the producer’s house style (like NV Champagne). Tawny ports are sweet or off-dry and generally considered a dessert wine.

Ruby Port – this is the cheapest and most widely-made type of port. After fermentation, it is usually aged in stainless steel tanks to prevent oxidation, and preserve its rich red color. The wine is fined and filtered before bottling, and is not intended for aging, as its quality will not improve. Ruby port often exudes fresh fruit aromas, and seems bright in the mouth. Meant for casual consumption, this serves as a decent “party port.” Like tawny port, this wine is also blended to match the house style.

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Port – Late Bottled Vintage port is wine that originally had been destined for bottling as Vintage Port, but because of lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned. LBV port wine is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a Vintage Port but without the need for lengthy bottle aging. This style can feature some great bargains.

Vintage Port – The finest style, representing only about 2% of a Port house’s total production. These wines are made from grapes grown in a single exceptional vintage year, showing the finest qualities that can be achieved by that producer and appellation. Vintage ports are aged in oak barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to thirty years of bottle aging before reaching maturity. Since vintage port wines are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby color, along with fresh fruit aromas and flavors. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to grow more complex and fascinating for up to a century after they are bottled. Clearly, not every year is a vintage year.

So, this particular wine, the 2004 Royal Oporto Vintage Port, merits attentive description.On the nose, it shows wonderfully full aromas of black fruits, such as cherry and plum with distinct undertones of hazelnuts and dark chocolate. I also caught some notes of burnt caramel and anise. It has a lush, silky mouthfeel, with well-rounded tannins and great balance. Delicious. $15 for a half bottle.

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