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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 12/16/2010

Wine: A very im-port-ant primer

By Dave McIntyre

blog-port.jpgIn this week's column, I wrote about ports, and next week I will urge you with all my powers of persuasion to explore aged tawny. Devoting two columns to port is to acknowledge that the category is downright bewildering. Here at AWCE, when something is downright bewildering, we offer up a primer, so here it goes:

The most rare and expensive ports, vintages are "declared" about 18 months after harvest, but only for the best years, the ones that show the greatest potential for extremely long aging. Each house declares a vintage (though they tend to declare on the same years). Properly stored, vintage ports tend to reach maturity about 15 years from
harvest, though they usually live much longer. This is why collectors often set aside some vintage port to celebrate the year of a child's birth.

Single quinta
In non-vintage years, a house may bottle its best wines as single quinta (vineyard) port, with the year noted on the bottle. Like vintage, these are bottled two years after harvest and are meant to be aged a decade or more in bottle. They are considered "early maturing" and are therefore less expensive.

Aged tawny
Made from wines set aside a few months after harvest and aged in 600-liter casks called "pipes." Through long-term aging -- 10, 20 or more years -- the wines develop an amber color and flavors of dried fruits and nuts. The year of bottling is noted on the label, and
the wines are meant to be consumed within two or three years of bottling. Best served chilled.

An aged tawny from a single vintage. These tend to be rare and expensive, and reflect the vintage characteristics as much as the house style.

Late bottled vintage (LBV)
A relatively new style of port developed in the 1970s, designed to preserve fresh fruit flavors and provide some vintage character while being drinkable upon release. An excellent partner for chocolate.

Young port meant to emphasize its fruit flavors, not meant for aging.

Young port with some wood influence and brief exposure to air. Not to be mistaken for "aged tawny."

Other port
Wineries around the world make port-style wines by adding neutral spirits to red wines. These are often called port despite efforts by the European Union to protect the name for true port from Portugal's Douro Valley. While the legal effort may be favoring true port, the New World imitators don't have an easy alternative. "Sparkling wine" may be an easy and attractive name for bubblies made outside Champagne, but "fortified wine" sounds a little too Skid Row. Wineries may be reluctant to stop calling their wines port until another name comes along that would describe their efforts to give us a sweet ending to our evenings.

By Dave McIntyre  | December 16, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags:  Dave McIntyre, wine  
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