Discovering the complexities of port wine
August 11, 2015
Wine and food pairings can be like speed dating.
"Port and cheese, done right, is an excellent marriage," said Pollyanna Forster, of Eat! Drink! in Edwards.
Forster and Peter Scott, of Premium Port Wines, talked about some of the finer points of the two at the Port & Cheese Pairing, one of the events at last weekend's Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival.
"Port and blue cheese are a legendary combination," Scott said.
That's because …
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"Cheese is one of the sexiest foods," Forster said.
Cheese, Forster explained, was invented as a way to move milk from one place to another before refrigeration and before preservatives.
There are four kinds: soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard, and all the milk comes from cows, goats and sheep.
"I don't look like Kate Moss because I eat cheese every single day," she said smiling.
There are a couple things you should know. For one, good cheddar is not orange. That's a coloring agent. Forster said.
Also, Forster eats about two burgers a year. If you put cheese on your burger, make sure you cleanse your palate with a sip of something — soda, water, whatever you want — so you can taste what's going on in there.
The same basic principle applies to port and cheese.
Taste a little port, taste a little cheese, go back and forth, then taste them together.
Also, get your nose down in that glass and take a good, long sniff. That tells you as much as your taste buds will, or more, Forster said.
"You can taste four things with your mouth. You can sense hundreds, maybe thousands of things with your nose," Forster said.
Forster has been sipping port since she was a kid, when her grandfather let her dunk her little finger in his glass.
Port is about 20 percent alcohol — that's why you won't be surprised to learn that as the pairing event went on, the crowd grew happier and more conversant.
Air in the bottle is the enemy of wine, we learned, and one guy asked how long a bottle will last after it's opened.
The technical answer is that it can last weeks, Scott said.
"My flippant answer is that it lasts about 20 minutes," Scott joked.
W&J Graham's Port was established in 1820 by the Graham family. The patriarch got into the port wine business when the bank he was working for in England went bust. He migrated to Portugal and put banking behind him forever.
The Symington Family bought it in 1970, and while the name above the door changed, nothing else did, including the high quality of the port.
There's only one small place in this big wide world where port grapes are grown and where port wine is made — Oporto, Portugal's Upper Douro Valley. It's high, rocky, rugged terrain. That's it. Anywhere else is a pretender to the throne.
If something works, you stick with it, and the fundamentals for making port haven't changed in centuries, Scott said.
Port has been foot treaded in granite vats, a method now used mostly for small specialty batches. These days they use stainless steel robots that replicate the action of the human foot.
Fermentation is stopped at about 36 hours. After that the wine ages in oak casks until it's ready for bottling.
A vintage port is made from the best grapes of a single year and happens about three times in a decade, Scott said. Their last one was 2011. There was one in 1994 and 1977, and a few in between.
That 2011 vintage was named the No. 1 wine by Wine Spectator.
Since port tends to be a sweeter wine, it pairs well with rich cheeses (think blue or wash-rind), chocolate and caramel desserts or even sweet, smoked meats. For a summer version, try a ruby port, served slightly cool.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.