Ten Great Ports and Madeiras For the Holidays
When the cold outside has us seeking warmth, there's nothing warmer than the feel of a fortified wine. The following ten-five Madeiras and five Ports-will not only warm you, they will make you feel pampered and fed.
Madiera is the wine that never dies. That's because of its singular process that literally cooks the wine to near-Pasteurization. The result is that each type of the five major Madeira wine styles is underlined as caramelized. Because the wines never die, try some of the older vintages listed by the Rare Wine Company Madeira importers. Don't worry. Once you open it, you do not have to finish the bottle for years to come.
Barbeito Sercial 1988 ($90.00)
The driest Madeira style, Sercial is pale in color. It is aged for at least eight years before release, which deepens its color somewhat. Contrary to the "sticky" moniker, when served slightly chilled, Sercial makes for a great aperitif and can also be paired with seafood as well as with dried fruits and nuts.
D'Oliveira Verdelho 1973 ($110.00)
Verdelho is golden-hued, medium-bodied, with sweetness up front and a dry finish. Tradition has it that you serve Verdelho with fruitcake, but it does equally well with fruit or cake individually, not to mention nuts, which is standard Madeira pairing material.
Bual (also known as Boal) and a personal favorite, is deeper and darker that Sercial or Verdelho. It is a little sweeter too. Bual offers forward fruitiness and silky texture. Most serve this wine as a dessert stand-alone, but it does wonders with strong nuts and even some dark, bitter chocolate.
Barbeito Malvasia 1958 ($200.00)
Malvasia is the original grape for Madeira-actually, it is the original grape for a wine that was produced in the East before Islam. The grape made its way to the West and the island of Madeira proved a suitable place for it. Known as Malmsey (a name the British gave to Malvasia) this wine is dark, like the shell of chestnuts. It is also the sweetest Madeira, definitely for dessert, and makes for a fine syrup, with just a little poured over ice cream.
Ferraz Terrantez Madeira (Leacock Collection) 1795 ($4,500.00)
If you must splurge, do it for this, the rarest of Madeira wines, which is no longer produced. The style of this wine has been compared to pralines, chocolate, ginger and allspice.
While all the Madeira wines are produced from white grapes, Port is produced from red and white grapes, but most of us treasure the red versions.
Unlike Madeira, once you open a bottle of Port you don't have years to empty it-you have fewer days than most people think. It will last, but a month-old open bottle is beyond the use-by date, and while a week-old open bottle will never be as fresh as a day-old one, a Vintage Port can last a week.
To produce Port you must halt fermentation before it is finished, leaving sweetness and grape juice character behind. To stop the fermentation, the low alcohol wine is fortified with brandy.
Port comes in many styles. For our purposes, we will dwell on the style known as Vintage Port, for it doesn't happen every year. To label a Vintage Port the producer must first declare it a vintage year. Still, only 2% of the crop will go into making a Vintage Port. These wines age long and well in the bottle.
Vintage Port is the quintessential wine for sharp blue cheeses-we needn't say more.
Niepoort Vintage Port 1994 ($50.00 to $90.00, you have to search)
This is an elegant wine with mineral character and fine tannins. It has spiciness and bramble fruit qualities as well.
Dow's Vintage Port 1994 ($90.00)
If you like a wine with red fruit flavors and minerality, plus a minty quality and a dry finish, this is the one.
Fonseca Vintage Port 1994 ($230.00)
With strong berry aromas, this lush wine is simultaneously sweet and tannic. It's a most powerful Port, one that you can almost chew.
Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port 1994 ($90.00)
Tastes of dark fruits like plums berries. It has a smoky quality and a deep texture. This Port does extremely well alongside chocolate.
Quinta do Castro Vintage Port 1994 ($50.00)
Ports are generally produced from sourced grapes. But in Vintage years, you will find Single Quinta Vintage Ports-they are single estate wines from grapes on the producer's property. This one is fruity, semi-sweet and with intense, chewy tannins.