Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food is not the Only Thing that Pairs Well with Wine

Tomorrow evening is another episode in what has become a somewhat regular event over the last few years – cigar and Port night.  On roughly a six month schedule, a number of us that golf together regularly get together for a cigar and Port night.  Although this blog is principally about pairing food and wine, I am taking the liberty of stretching a bit.  Cigars and Port are a natural combination.

The photo is the lineup for tomorrow’s event and includes:

  • 2007 M. Chapoutier Banyuls
  • 2004 Late Bottled Vintage Quinta Da Gaivosa
  • 2003 Late Bottled Vintage Fonseca
  • 2003 Quinta De Ventozelo
  • 1997 Rozés

Vintage Port

Vintage Port is at the top of the pile as far as price, aging potential, and prestige are concerned. It’s made only from the best grapes of a single vintage, and only in years that have been “declared” vintage-worthy, which usually happens just a few times a decade. However, the decision on whether to declare a vintage is made in the spring of the second year following the harvest by each individual Port House (referred to as a 'shipper').  Because of the reputations at stake, these decisions are not taken lightly.

Vintage Ports are made similarly to other Ports, fortified with spirits to arrest fermentation and preserve residual sugar.  Because the Vintage Ports are so young upon release (after two years of aging in the Port House), they are usually tucked away in cellars for many years until they mellow and mature into their potential - generally another ten to thirty years of aging in the bottle before reaching what is considered a proper drinking age.  The helpful staff at my favorite wine and liquor store (Schneider’s of Capitol Hill) assisted in selecting vintages that are drinking well now, although a bit young.

While it is by far the most renowned type of port, from a volume and revenue standpoint, Vintage Port actually makes up only a small percentage of the production of most shippers. Since they are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.

“Late-Bottled Vintage” or “LBV” Ports aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date. This means they spend about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports, and so they’re usually more accessible at an early age. LBVs were originally intended to offer an experience comparable to Vintage Port but at a much lower cost and without the extensive cellaring.

Tomorrow we will enjoy these Ports paired with our favorite cigars.  I will admit it is true that a cigar deadens some of your capacity to taste, but the combination of a bold, fruity Port with a fine cigar is a true pleasure.  The flavors of the Port and the cigar blend in a way that makes you want neither the cigar nor the Port to end.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


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