Port on call

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Often overlooked at the wine shop - maybe because they're usually sequestered away from their more popular wine cousins - ports are just the thing to seek out this season.

Maybe you know of port as a warming drink for the wintertime months, and that's true, but there's plenty about the wine that's still shrouded in mystery for most of us.

Frank Slezak at Spagio Cellars suggests the fortified wine as a post-dinner drink for holiday entertaining. He carries all varieties, including vintages more than 40 years old, and each style has a story behind it.

Ports are typically red - white exists but is uncommon - and high in alcohol. That's because it begins as red wine that's then fortified with brandy. This stops the fermentation process, resulting in a heightened sugar and alcohol content.

The wine gets its name because it's processed and stored in Porto, a city in northern Portugal. But the five main grapes used are grown in vineyards called quintas in Portugal's Douro Valley.

Ports are distinguished by how - and how long - they're aged. Most common are ruby ports, which have a deep color because they're aged in stainless steel or concrete tanks to prevent oxidative aging. Tawny ports are aged in barrels, giving them a nutty flavor.

Vintage ports are the most renowned and the least produced. Bottlers only declare vintages for exceptional harvests, then age them briefly in barrels before storing them in bottles for decades.

Quinta das Heredias Special Reserve Ruby

Cost: $19

Ruby port, the most common, has strong essences of red berries and plums and is excellent paired with stilton or blue cheese. It's also considered the most appealing port to the uninitiated.

Churchill's 10-Year-Old Tawny Porto

Cost: $33

Aging in barrels - for a minimum of seven years and as many as 40 - imparts tawny ports with a "nutty" flavor and a lighter color. They're sweet, medium-dry and typically consumed as a dessert wine.

Smith Woodhouse 1983 Vintage Port

Cost: $60

This 1983 vintage would be fine to enjoy now, Slezak said, and even better in a decade or more. A ceremony of sorts often accompanies opening one of these bottles, and they should be decanted first and consumed within a few days.