Wine Talk: The gentleman’s tipple
Real port can only be produced in Portugal. But port-like fortified wines are also produced in Israel.
Wine Photo: Courtesy
Port is the world’s most famous fortified red wine, made from grapes grown in
the northern part of Portugal, alongside the upper part of the Douro River. The
major planting of the area took place in the 17th century. In those days, the
British and French were in disagreement most of the time, if not at war. The
treaty between Britain and Portugal in 1703 cemented a relationship, and the
British became forever associated with port, which became their favorite wine
during this period.
Port was originally made as a table wine, but a
splash of brandy was seen to improve its taste and ensure greater stability when
it was shipped. Expedience became a necessity, and the idea of port being a wine
fortified by brandy was born.
The Douro vineyards are dramatically steep
and rugged, and the vines are lined in terraces. The hot climate and deep-rooted
vines burrowing tens of meters deep into schist and granite soils contribute to
the world’s most famous fortified wine. The best-known grape variety is
the Touriga Nacional, but there are also many other local varieties that are
blended together to make port.
Harvesting is done in late
September. Grape-picking is done only by hand. This is the only place in
the wine world where grapes are sometimes still crushed under foot in a granite
basin. Those who are treading the grapes hold on to each other’s shoulders and
march to and fro, singing. It sounds like fun, but it is hard work, slippery,
and even dangerous if someone were to fall. The wine is made like a normal table
wine, but when the sugars have been only half fermented, the process is stopped
by adding brandy, hence the resulting wine is sweet and high in alcohol. Ports
are silky smooth, rich flavored with a warm, satisfying middle
The main port styles
White port, which is a white fortified wine,
is made from white grapes.
Ruby port is young, medium-bodied (for a
port), with a bright ruby red color and uncomplicated sweet flavor.
port is aged in casks for anything up to three years, and usually a lot
more. The wines lose their color, hence the name tawny, and gain a
brick-red color and a nutty flavor. A tawny port from a single vintage is called
Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV, is a port from a good harvest
aged between five and six years in casks. These are more complex than ruby port
and more approachable than vintage.
Vintage port is a port from a single
harvest. This is the most famous category, but it represents only a tiny
amount of port made and it must be made in a special year, which is declared “a
vintage year.” Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of two and
a half years, but most of the aging, or maturation, occurs in the
bottle. If called Single Quinta, it is from an individual
The most famous port producers are Croft, Dow, Graham,
Sandeman, Taylor and Warre. The names reflect a strong English influence. The
English have always been port’s largest customers. In the dining rooms of the
upper class, women would be asked to leave the room after dinner, as the port
was decanted and cigars were lit. Then the decanter would be passed around the
table but, as tradition dictated, only to the left.
Port should be
cellared horizontally like a normal wine if it is closed with a cork or be left
standing up if closed with a stopper. Vintage port will need to be decanted
because it will throw a sediment. Port is the ultimate after-dinner
drink. It will accompany hard or blue cheeses, bitter chocolate and
walnuts. The classic match is port and Stilton, the famous English blue
cheese. If you are in an English pub and hear an order for port and lemon or a
port and brandy, it will of course be ruby port that is being used. The French
will often use white port as an aperitif.
As a gift for a brit mila
(circumcision ceremony), a vintage port is the wise choice to buy if the intention is to save it until the boy’s bar mitzva. Or,
alternatively, buy a bottle on the birth of a daughter for the purpose of
opening it on the occasion of her marriage. The high alcohol and sweetness will
preserve it, and it will stand the test of time. It will last better than any
other Israeli wine.
Port wine has been sold in Israel for years. There
are old labels depicting Palestine Port. However, port, like champagne and
sherry, is a protected name, and only the Portuguese can truly use the word
“port.” Israeli wineries went through a phase of choosing similar-sounding names
for their fortified red wines. Porath, Portok and Partom are three that come to
Many countries make wonderful portstyle wines, and some of the
finest are made in Australia. In Israel, there are also some excellent examples,
including those of Odem Mountain, Psagot, Tulip and Vitkin wineries. The only
kosher ports from Portugal are the Porto Cordovero LBV and Ruby Port. Some of
the best, which are readily available in Israel, are:
Yarden T2 2008
port-style wine that has recently been released. It was made from two Portuguese
grape varieties, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão, which are both used in port.
Both are new in Israel and are grown on the Golan Heights. The wine, aged 26
months in oak, is richly flavored, complex, spicy and perfumed.
Carmel Vintage 2007
A wine made in the style of a vintage port from Petite Sirah
grapes, grown in the Judean Hills. It has rich red cherry and ripe plum fruit
aromas, backed by dried fruit flavors of figs and raisins. A long, concentrated
Tishbi Barbera Zinfandel 2006
A blend of Barbera and
Zinfandel, fortified with red Muscat brandy. Sweet, rich and full-bodied.
Produced by the Tishbi family at their winery in Binyamina.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. email@example.com