Shona: You’re a dream who’s trying to save us?
Santa: Shona, sweetheart, I’m Santa Claus. I think you just defined me!
-2014 Dr. Who Last Christmas
Here’s to keeping the dream alive.
Perhaps because it is so hard to maintain a spiritual equanimity in the face of the material onslaught that is an American Christmas, many of us find ourselves unbound from the constraints of culinary society that bind us for the other 11 months of the year. We find ourselves indulging in such dainties as peppermint eggnog, holiday spice bacon and caramel soaked cheesy rum balls. Protected by the funk of holiday gluttony, I feel we can safely offer the third rail of the wine world, a (gasp) Port.
Yes, I know that everybody hates sweet wine. And yes, Port is a legitimately sweet wine. And yet...it is almost blasphemous to put a Gummi Santa into one’s mouth but spurn the balm of this classic, thoughtful, complex, eminently civilized libation. We humbly request that you approach this wine with an open heart and an open mind as well as an open mouth. Because Port is awesome. Instead of choosing between another glass of wine and dessert, port offers you a twofer. They say it can’t be done, but port is the rare opportunity to both have your cake and eat it too. You can be sweetly buzzed. Or, caution to the wind, you can fully indulge your gustatory fantasies because port is the all time best wine to pair with chocolate. OR, you can even pair it with...dinner.
Port is so awesome that it deserves at least another paragraph or two of love and understanding. Here’s a little perspective: Wine has been flowing through the Douro valley hills for at least 2000 years and the first recorded shipment of wine with the name Port was in 1678. The vineyards of Port in the Douro Valley of Portugal were the first vineyards in the world to be legally demarcated and recognized. This was in 1756. Twenty years before our country even existed. Many of the oldest vineyards are today classified as World Heritage sites.
The grapes that go into a bottle of Port belong to that class of grapes designated as obscure: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. They are most often blended across vintages and they are fortified, which means the winemaker adds a neutral grape spirit (we would say brandy, they would say aguardente) before fermentation is complete. This does two things of note - it allows a good amount of residual sugar to remain in the wine while simultaneously adding a good punch of alcohol. Port is strong stuff, usually averaging 18% to 20%. Unless you are a captain in the British navy, use caution. Both the sugar and the alcohol serve to preserve the intensely fruity character of the bottle. A little dab will do you and Port can sit open on your counter for weeks and continue to delight.
Finally, a few more focused serving suggestions. Fonseca - one of the oldest and most respected Port houses - specifically recommends pairing the 2008 LBV (the Big House pick) with a blue veined cheese, of which we have a wide selection at the Pour House. The Bin 27 (the Poor House pick) is perfect with a variety of cheese or dark chocolate but Fonseca suggests a mind blowing match of raspberry macaroons. Cracking walnuts by the fire with Stilton and Port is one of my very favorite winter night pastimes. Recommended reading on such a night - Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander. Honestly, a better escape does not exist.
Our second picks for both clubs are in many superficial ways on the opposite end of the wine continuum from Port but in essentials, they are the same - so much thought and ingenuity has gone into the creation of both!
The holiday season is just not festive without sparkling wine and we have two fabulous choices on tap for you this month - the NV Hubert Meyer Cremant d’Alsace for the Big House and the NV Tarantus Cava for the Poor House. Both of these sparklers are made in the method Champagnoise, but neither is from Champagne. A few things sparkling wine has in common with Port wine: blending (of grapes and years), adding a little extra something (in the case of port, alcohol, and in the case of method Champagnoise wines, sugar) and both are traditionally celebratory. And both pair well with a wide variety of cheese or dessert or can function as an aperitif or digestif. It just goes on and on! Let’s suffice to say that these are wines for all occasions, whether you are guest, host or hermit. Recommended reading with sparkling wine: Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility. The clink of glasses as the quartet tunes before the dancers line up to join in the waltz is the perfect accompaniment to your escapist glass of bubbles.
I believe that I have rambled on enough for one newsletter. There is always more to learn, so stop and chat when you come in to pick up your wines!
NV Hubert Meyer Cremant d’Alsace
2008 Fonseca LBV
NV Tarantas Macabeo Xarello Parellada Cava Spain
Fonseca Bin 27 Port