Saturday, March 19, 2022

Entering The World Of Warre’s Port

Exploring the sweet pleasures of Port wine. 

When I had the opportunity to sample four different styles of Warre’s Port, I leaped at the opportunity – and then contacted my friend Arthur Barham of Merlot2Muscadine. Arthur is notorious for his love of Port and he readily agreed to host a tasting event. Not only that, but he prepared an over-the-top charcuterie board to accompany the Port.

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Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port company established in Portugal. Port is a wine from the Douro Valley of Portugal. The name Port Wine is protected. Just like Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, Port only comes from Douro Valley in Portugal. Other wineries can make “port-style” wine, just not Port.

England and Portugal have a long history as trading partners. When conflict with France resulted in a ban on French wine in the 17th century, Portugal was there to fill the void. To withstand the long voyage on sailing ships, the wines were fortified with brandy. This not only preserved the wine but stopped the fermentation process, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar along with higher alcohol content.

Charcuterie courtesy of Merlot2Muscadine

Port Wine Perfected Through Centuries Of Tradition

Port is made primarily from a half-dozen red grapes, most of which are not very familiar to us. One that we do know well is Tinta Roriz, better known as Tempranillo. Touriga Nacional is also a well-known Portuguese grape. There are different grapes for white Port.

Port tasting crew

Traditionally, the grapes were harvested and then crushed by foot in low open stone troughs. This continues today to a certain extent. After a short fermentation, the wine is fortified with a neutral grape alcohol to 19% to 22% ABV.

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The wine is then put in barrels where it stays for the winter. Traditionally, the barrels were then transported downriver in fancy flat-bottomed boats to the city of Oporto. These days the activities have shifted across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and transport is mostly by truck. Ports are generally sweet, high in alcohol, and rich in complex flavors and aromas.  

We sampled four wines, paired with especially chosen charcuterie and treats (thanks, Arthur). It was a fortuitous opportunity to taste four different styles of Port. This was also my first experience with Port pipes, small glass drinking vessels with a delicate glass straw. As you sip through the straw the wine is beautifully aerated, accentuating the beautiful richness and savory notes of the Port. It only whets my appetite to try some of the upper-tier vintage Ports. Here are the wines and pairings:

Port pipes and Warre's Port
Warre’s Fine White Port, NV

Pairing: Gruyere and Yorkshire Wensleydale cheeses, almonds, lemon Girl Scout cookies, and dried apricots.

White Port is much rarer than red Port and is made in sweet or off-dry styles. The Warre’s white is in a medium-dry style. We served it with a nice chill as a kickoff to the tasting. It is light straw-colored with a crisp aroma – quite a contrast to the savory flavor profile of traditional Port. On the palate, it is nice and smooth with a bit of a kick from the 19% ABV. There is a floral flavor, perhaps lilac, leading to a tangy, tart finish. A great pairing with Gruyere and the lemon cookie.

Warre’s King’s Tawny Port, NV

Pairing: Chocolate hazelnut biscotti, chocolate caramel with sea salt, smoked cheddar, and Manchego cheeses.

I moved this wine up in the tasting order after learning that it was a young Tawny and less robust than the ruby Port we would taste. Ruby port is the simplest of Ports and a Tawny Port is one that is aged long enough to oxidize to produce a golden brown color and richer flavors. This is a light, elegant Port that is soft and creamy on the tongue. It has the aroma of youthful fruit and a mellow body achieved through oak aging. Smoked cheddar was a triumphant pairing.

Warre’s Heritage Ruby Port, NV

Pairing: Smoky blue and blueberry goat cheeses, chocolate chip cookies.

The Heritage Ruby Port was the most robust of the three we had tasted so far. This was a deep red in color with a robust, sweet fruity flavor. The wine is stored for up to three years in oak vats before being blended, filtered and bottled. It has a classic Port flavor that inspired our group to try different food pairings, including putting the smoky blue cheese on top of the chocolate chip cookie. Hey, it worked. This is a rich wine that won over our tasting group.

Warre’s Warrior Finest Reserve Port

Pairing: Chocolate truffles, Fig Newtons, walnuts, blackberries.

Reserve Tawny reflects the true style of Port and this wine was the shining star of the tasting. Warrior is the oldest brand of Port in the world, having been shipped continuously since the 1750s. Warre’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, selects the best lots of wine to be matured for this reserve wine. It has a classic taste with full-bodied richness and balance. Reserve Tawny must be aged in oak for at least seven years. The opulent flavor includes layers of ripe plums and cherries with a hint of pepper on the back end. The finish is long and lingering. While the other Ports we tasted were each 19% ABV, this went a step further at 20% ABV.

Port-Style Wines From North Carolina

We also sampled the Port Hanover red dessert wine from Hanover Park Vineyard and Wiseman’s View Dessert-Style Noiret from Linville Falls Winery, both from North Carolina. While it was interesting to see what dessert wine is produced in our home state, they are not on the same level as the true Ports we enjoyed.

Warre’s Port wine that we sampled is all reasonably priced, ranging from $16 for the Heritage Ruby and the King’s Tawny to $18 for the Warrior. Warre’s has an extensive line of Port, including vintage Port, some of which are priced at $90.

Special thanks to Arthur for hosting the event (and providing the delicious food pairings) and to Brant, David, and John for joining the tasting adventure and contributing to the fun afternoon.

Full disclosure: The Port was received as a marketing sample

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