Once upon a time (okay, two nights ago), four brave ladies came together with a mission: we wanted to understand what the difference was between a proper Port and a Fortified Wine. We had five bottles, some amazing snacks, and we got down to it. We take our jobs very seriously.
First of all, what the heck even is Port? Port is a red wine, and it is usually served as a dessert wine, or aperitif. It’s sweeter than regular wine, due to the fortification process. It is fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content (thanks, Wikipedia). Its name, Port, comes from the name of the city in which it was first produced: Porto, at the mouth of the Douro River in Portugal. Similarly to Champagne, there are many kinds of fortified wines out there (and many kinds of sparkling white wines), but not all of them are Ports (or Champagne).
The result is a wine that is higher in alcohol content (usually nearly 20%) and higher in sugar content. When you swirl the glass, you’ll often find the wine has legs for days–this is an indication of the higher sugar content. There are two different kinds of ports: Tawny (a tobacco colour) and Ruby (which is the colour of red wine). They’re the same wines–Tawny is just left to age longer, resulting the paler colour.
We did a side-by-side tasting with five different Ports: three fortified BC Wines, and two actual Ports from Europe.
St. John Commandaria: this was a tawny port from Cypress, not available in Canada. Our hostess had gotten it from family who’d come back from Europe, and had been saving it for a special occasion. It was spicy on the nose, and had notes of honey and plum. It’s worthwhile noting that this particular wine has been being made for 5,000 years.
Warre’s Warrior: This was a true Ruby Port from Portugal, and is the oldest brand of port in the world. It was sophisticated, and it had a wonderful depth of flavour. I could taste cherries and warm spices, like cloves, and not too sweet.
Therapy Freudified: The first of our port-style, fortified wines from BC’s Okanagan, Therapy’s Freudified has a strong cigar/tobacco scent on the nose, and tasting notes of Cassis.
Burrowing Owl Coruja: A peppery nose, with blackberry tasting notes, this wine was the least sweet of all the ports we tasted. It was more stringent, and quite bold. It’s made from Syrah grapes, and packs an intense, rich flavour.
Kraze Legz Rogue (under the Skaha Label): This wine was the only one of the three BC port fortified wines to be a Tawny colour. It reminded us a lot of the Comandaria–just younger.
So, who won? Maybe we were all just purists, but at the end of the night, when all the wines had been tasted, we unanimously voted for Warres Warrior as our favourite. I might add, it’s a smoking deal, as you can get a demi bottle of it for under $15. Of the BC Wines, our favourites were the Burrowing Owl (in the Ruby category) and the Kraze Legz (in the Tawny). We didn’t taste Langley’s Vista D’oro’s Walnut Fortified Wine at this tasting, but I want to give it a shoutout, because I’ve had it before, and loved it.
By the way, if you want to host your own Port Party, port pairs really well with strong cheeses, like Blues and Cambrizolas (we especially enjoyed that one with ours). It also does well with dark chocolate, and spicy almonds. I also made a chicken liver pate that went over quite well.
What a great way to spend an evening with friends! I highly recommend you host your own side-by-side tasting night, and let me know the results!
A big shout out to Michelle for hosting and to Francis and Peggy for helping to taste-test.