Port & Sherry
Any port in a storm? Not likely. Ports and Sherries make wonderful
postprandial treats, especially paired with ice cream, or a fine cigar.
Oh, and don't forget Madeira, Marsala and Vin du Naturel...
Port
Port is a "fortified" wine. That is, during the wine-making process extra alcohol
is added to give it more kick. In Port's case brandy is added during
fermentation. The wine produced is wine tends to be thick, sweet and relatively
high in alcohol -- usually upwards of 18 percent.

Port is a blended wine, made from Touriga Nacional (usually the dominant
grape), Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and other minor grapes.


    Snob Tip: Port is named after the city where it was first produced,
    Oporto, Portugal. In fact, real port must come from Oporto, just as real
    Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France.


Ruby or Tawny?
There are two main styles of port: Ruby and Tawny. Ruby ports age in the bottle
while tawnies are aged in cask and pick up some of the characteristics of the
wood.

Ruby
Ruby port is bottled young and sold without aging. It keeps its bright ruby color
and the best ones show red, fruity spice and warmth. Basic rubies are
generally cheap. Higher end, higher quality rubies are usually designated "fine"
or "reserve." Ruby-style reports include:

    Single-Quinta
    In essence, quinta means for vineyard. A single-quinta port is port that
    come from a single vineyard and all the grapes used are from a single
    year, but for some reason the year is usually unnamed.

    Vintage
    Vintage ports are usually considered the most luscious by
    connoisseurs. By law, they are only made in declared years and must
    be bottled after two years. Vintage port lasts for decades until opened.
    Vintage ports are full of fruit and are warm and silky on the palate.  

Tawny
Tawnies have been aged in cask for a few years. This results in a, well, a
tawny, rather than a ruby, color. Or, rather the exposure to a bit of oxygen turns it
tawny. Tawnies tend to be less rich in fruit than rubies, but for my money have a
more sophisticated character than rubies.

    Aged Tawny
    An aged tawny port has spent at least 6 years in the cask and can age
    up to 30 years in the bottle. They're really swell, with nutty, spicy flavors
    and loaded with character.

    Colheita
    You've got tawny. You've got aged tawny. And you've got vintage aged
    tawny. It's called Colheita. And, no, I don't know how to pronounce it.
    Unlike vintage rubies, Colheitas will include a date for the vintage. It's a
    mystery why. Colheitas will have touch more character that aged
    tawnies.



Sherry
Sherry always makes me think of the TV Show, Frasier. Frasier and his effete
brother, Niles, are always sipping the stuff out of the most delicate little
glasses. It is Spain's answer to Port.

Sherry comes form the Jerez region of Spain. In fact, the term "Sherry" is said to
be an English corruption of "Jerez." Like Port, Sherry is a fortified wine made by
adding grape spirits, but after fermentation. It is primarily made from the
Palomino grape.

Styles
There are two basic types of Sherry, fino and olorosso. Fino is pale, dry and
tangy. It gets very little oxygen during the fermentation process because in the
vat it is covered with a thin layer of yeast called "flor." Olorosso is darker and
has a decidedly nutty character. It is  prevented from developing flor, so that
oxygen can mix with the wine. This oxygen gives olorosso its darker color and
richer flavor. Other styles of Sherry include:

  • Manzanilla -- Crisp and light, fino-like Sherry, Manzanilla should be
    drunk young and chilled.
  • Amontillado -- Made famous in America by the Edgar Allen Poe story,
    this Sherry is also in the fino style, though it has some of the nut-like
    characteristic of olorroso.
  • Cream -- A sweet Sherry made in the olorosso fashion.
  • Pedro-Ximenez -- A dense Sherry made from the Pedro Ximenez
    grape. Sometime called PX, this Sherry is lovely poured over ice cream.
    (Sort of a "Shunday.")


    Snob Tip: As noted above, Amontillado was made famous by Edgar
    Allen Poe. But do yourself a favor and not crack wise with the Poe jokes
    at an Amontillado tasting. Any morbid  joke you can think up has already
    been heard a hundred times by dedicated Amontilladophiles.


Other Port & Sherry-like Wines

Madeira
If Sherry is Spain's answer to Portugal's Port, then Madeira is Portugal
answering back with its own version of Sherry. There are sweet and dry
versions of Madeira, some of which are more like Port, other more like Sherry.
It's telltale characteristic, however, is its heavily "carmelized" flavor. To get this
flavor, the wine is, essentially, "baked" in a shed called an
estufagem. Vintage
Madeira, by law, must spend at least 20 years in the cask. The styles of
Madeira going from driest to sweetest are: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and
Malmsey.

Marsala
Marsala wine is produced in Sicily, Italy in a process very similar to Sherry
where the fortification occurs after fermentation and the wine is aged in a set of
casks.

Vin Doux Naturel
A Vin Doux Naturel is a sweet dessert wine from France made in a process  a
lot like Port. Like Port fermentation is halted through the addition of neutral
grape spirit, fortifying the wine up to 21 percent alcohol. Vin Doux Naturel can
be made from both red and white grapes, and is produced  mostly in the South
of France. White Vin Doux Naturel is typically made from the Muscat grape,
while the red is typically made from Grenache.
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