Port to warm a winter evening

A Glass of Port by the Fire
For those of us who choose to live in the northern, snowy regions of the earth, the idea of a nice rich, deep sweet finish to an evening sounds great. To my friends in Florida, central and southern California, I say, you must occasionally have a rainy, cool gray day, right? Perfect time for a glass of port by the fire. Or even an exhausting day at work, time to sit down, put your feet up and take a few minutes to just rest and reflect. Port Time!

Cockburn's Special Reserve Port in the snow

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port is sure to warm your heart on a cold winter day

Many Variations of Port
Traditionally, Port is explained as having two main styles: bottle aged and barrel aged. I would argue there are three mains styles with many variations between. All (red) ports start out the same: the grapes are grown in the Douro valley in Portugal. The wine is fermented up to a point at which a high-quality neutral grape spirit is added, stopping fermentation and leaving the resulting wine at a higher alcohol level and a bit sweet. The various styles of Port are all about the aging regimen.

Vintage Port aging at Cockburn’s Port Cellars (photo courtesy of Cockburn’s Port)

Port Style #1: Bottle Aged Port- Vintage and Quinta
After fermentation and a period of oak aging, vintage Ports and Quinta Ports (single vineyard Ports made in non-vintage years) are bottled unfined and unfiltered for long aging in bottle. The structure of Port wines are such that they benefit from long aging. The old saying is that you drink the vintage Port your grandfather purchased for you. Apparently, my grandfather didn’t do his duty on this task. Which reminds me, go buy some Vintage Port for your grandchildren!

Port aging vessels at Cockburn's Port House

From 600 liter pipes to swimming pool size tanks, Port wines are aged in a variety of vessels, depending on the desired traits. (Photo courtesy of Cockburn’s Port)

Port Style #2: Young, Fresh Vat/Cask Aged Port
Ruby Port expresses youth and freshness and is aged in very large casks or vats (even swimming pool size, imagine that!). Dark in color and full of primary fruit flavors, this is a great starting point for Port exploration. Ruby Port, Late Bottled Vintage Port, and many Reserve Ports would fall into this category.

Port Style #3: Mature, Cask Aged Tawny Port
Tawny Port is aged in 600 liter barrels also called “pipes”. These are very old barrels, used many times. They don’t impart any oaky flavors, but they allow a slow oxidation to occur over the years. Tawny Ports are lighter in color and offer smooth texture and nutty, musty, oxidized flavors. These are my personal favorites.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port
Typically, Reserve Ports are considered part of the Ruby Port family.  As I tasted this Port, I was interested to dig a little deeper into the aging of Cockburn’s Special Reserve. While it certainly is dark in color, I smelled just a bit of that nutty, musty attic smell I love from medium size barrel aging. I decided to send an email to the winery. Sure enough, I wasn’t imagining something.  Here is the response from Gabriel at the winery:

“And yes, you are absolutely right, our Special Reserve is a blend that ages both in medium sized wooden vats and big barrels that we call “toneis” that have capacity for about 3 thousand to 4 thousand liters, this makes a huge difference on the outcome, the wine being more “evolved”, and with more elegance and finesse than a “normal” reserve ruby.””

Cockburn's Special Reserve Port

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port really is special, with just a touch of that tawny character woven in

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port (winery sample, SRP $18)
Eye: Clear, deep ruby color with a slightly warm edge
Nose: Clean, medium intensity, ripe rich deep black fruit, blackberries, barely into raisins. A bit of musty basement (in the best way!)
Mouth: Sweet, full body, lip-smacking, refreshing acidity, medium tannins, nice long finish. This port occupies an interesting mid-point between ruby and tawny. It’s dark and deeply fruity but has just a bit of that lovely tawny oxidation.  I enjoyed it very much, either with nuts & cheese or just by itself by the fire.

Disclosure: The Port wine for this post was provided as a sample. All opinions are my own.

Cockburn's Special Reserve Port and cheeses by the fire

We enjoyed a bit of Port by the fire with slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, blue cheeses and some cashews.

Serving Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port
Port can pair with sweet treats, especially if you have something in the intense, dark chocolate vein. My favorite approach for Port is to let the wine be the sweet element. I have grown very fond of serving a glass of Port with nuts and cheeses . This is the time for older, aged cheeses, not so much the young fresh types.  We enjoyed this afternoon break with slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, blue cheeses and some cashews. A nice way to spend a few minutes enjoying the snow falling outside.

Cockburn's Special Reserve Port for the fireside at www.foodwineclick.com




10 Responses to “Port to warm a winter evening”
  1. Wine-Deli-Trieks says:

    Reblogged this on Wine-Deli-Trieks.

  2. lynda seasly says:

    Hi Jeff, I think it was a port that was given to us when John was born, that I mentioned at the Rehearsal Dinner. We drank it on his 21st birthday. When I lived in London and was poor, I always ordered Dubonnet and sprite at the pub. Is Dubonnet a port? Thanks for all this information, Lynda >

  3. Jeff, you’re so right about those of us living in warmer climes: I actually find myself looking forward to a grey, chilly day once in a while. Thanks for the great port-pairing suggestions!

  4. Peter Burrows says:

    What’s the second part of that adage? Buy wines for your kids?….

    • You passed the test on whether or not my kids ever read the blog. I have on my “to do” list to buy that vintage port for possible future grandchildren and buy Gr. Cru Classe Bordeaux for my children… Or maybe I’ll just drink it first!

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  1. […] foodwineclick dives into the ins and outs of port and reviews an affordable Cockburn’s Special Reserve […]

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