The Whisky Lover's Guide to Port
May 8, 2018 –––––– Whisky Advocate
On the surface, port seems to have little in common with whisky. The former is made from fermented grapes and is notably sweet, while the latter is distilled from grain and sports more than twice as much alcohol. However, as a red wine fortified with distilled spirit, port pairs well with many of whisky's flavorful kindred companions—cigars, cheese, and red meat, for instance. With its legendary power and flavor intensity, port makes a wonderful diversion, certain to please both the wine and the spirits lovers gathered around your holiday table.Made from a handful of indigenous red grape varieties in Portugal's Douro River valley, port can be classed into two broad groups: ruby and tawny. Ruby ports are aged briefly in large casks before moving to the bottle. While whisky evolves only in the cask and is considered ready to drink on release, ruby ports leave additional aging to the imbiber, as the wines evolve and ideally improve with added years in the bottle. Tawny ports spend their entire aging period in cask and, much like whisky, they are considered ready to drink when they are finally bottled—10, 20, 30 years or more down the line.At the pinnacle of the ruby port family is vintage port. Vintage ports are rich and muscular in texture and defined by flavors of fruitcake, licorice, bramble, and cobbler. Port producers typically declare a vintage year only when quality across the region is high, occurring on average three years out of every ten. Fortune smiled on the Douro in 2014 and '15, with back-to-back vintages. However, the vintages are different in style, affording an opportunity to get a taste of the pleasures and breadth of vintage port.Starting with 2014, a year marked by slightly cooler and wetter weather, the wines are lighter-bodied and provide pleasure now, but will also benefit from 15 to 25 years of aging. Try the Churchill Vintage Port 2014 (90 points Wine Spectator, $47/375 ml). It's juicy and lively, with plum, anise, and açaí berry flavors backed by a bramble and mint-edged finish. Available only in 375 ml or magnum format, the half bottle provides the perfect trial size. The Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 2014 (92 points Wine Spectator, $64) shows a high pitch to its mix of red currant, pomegranate, and blackberry fruit, laced with a light menthol hint. Both wines show the readily accessible profile of the vintage. Curious about how they might evolve over time? Pouring vintage port into a decanter and then tasting how it changes over a few days will offer some insight.Thanks to warmer and drier weather, the 2015 vintage is one of considerably more depth, structure, and ripeness. A number of houses made exceptional wines, including Graham, Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, and Fonseca. While the '15s are built for longer cellaring than the '14s, it's still okay to sample the wines now—best in a decanter over a few days—before deciding whether to tuck a few bottles away for the coming decades.