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 credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: 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Port was originally made as a table wine, but a splash of brandy was seen to improve its taste and ensure greater stability when it was shipped.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 palate.
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.
Tawny 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 a Colheita.
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 property.
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 mind.
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 A 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.
NIS 190
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 finish.
NIS 140
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.
NIS 205
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]