Not just any Port in a storm Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Port, on case you didn't know it, is the drink of warriors. There was a bottle of Port on every captain's table in Nelson's fleet when they sailed for Trafalgar (indeed, it is said that Admiral Nelson sketched out the battle plan for Trafalgar with a finger dipped in port). The Duke of Wellington wrote to his father during the Penninsular campaign that he was a keen port drinker. George Washington was a constant drinker of port.
But, there is port, and there is port.
As it happens, my favorite table port is Whiskers Blake, which, since it comes from Australia, isn't actually a port at all. It's a tawny port-style wine.
And a fine port-style wine it is. As the Wine Lover's Page puts it:
Dark amber with a reddish-copper hue, this fine dessert wine breathes delicious scents of mixed nuts and browned butter; it smells so good that we sit and sniff it for a long time before taking the first taste. Sweet and mellow, it blends flavors of dark, plummy fruit with rich milk chocolate, sweet oak and caramel — in an odd way, it reminds this Kentuckian of a very fine Bourbon, without the heat. Though far afield from a traditional Port, it's a wonderful Oz "sticky," one of the best I've tasted.
At $15 per bottle, it's an extraordinary value for the price.
As it happens, however, my local wine shop was out of Whiskers Blake this week. So, I decided to try another Australian port, Old Codger.
Let's just say, I'm waiting for a new shipment of Whiskers Blake.
I also have to say I found this article about Whiskers Blake amusing:
To push the limit, though, I experimented with one of my favorite midrange Australian "Ports," Hardy's "Whiskers" Blake. We opened this wine on Feb. 6, enjoyed a glass (my notes are below), put the cork back in the bottle, and - to set up a worst-case situation - left it upright on the shelf at room temperature.
Last night, about 2 1/2 weeks later, we tried another glass. Somewhat to my surprise, frankly, it was still quite palatable. Comparing my notes from the two occasions, it had clearly changed somewhat, losing some of its complexity and acid. But it still made a pleasant after-dinner sip, with good brown-sugar and caramel flavors and enough acidic "snap" to provide balance and flavor interest. I can't imagine a Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay holding up so well for so long.
Who knows? It may even be true. I mean, I've ever let an opened bottle of port sit on a shelf for 2 1/2 weeks, myself, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a bottle of Whiskers Blake still tasted great two weeks after opening the bottle.
In 1970 my grandparents moved to Carcavelos, a village to the west of Lisbon in Portugal. They used to grow these grapes which yielded the sweetest, most intoxicating dessert wine this side of al-Jannah.
But did I mention that Carcavelos is to the WEST of Lisbon? Get out a map of Portugal and have a look at where Lisbon is relative to the Atlantic coast. Carcavelos can’t be very far from Lisbon... and as it happens, it’s not.
So. Lisbon got bigger over the decades and the Carcavelos vineyard got smaller. (Even Wikipedia knows of the Carcavelos vineyard - although I will say that the Wiki authors are dead wrong about the quality of the local ocean, it’s Lisbon-polluted and its waves are pathetic; we used to swim in it at the age of 8 and I never saw anyone actually surf on it, and if anyone ever did he’d be doing it as a joke - but that’s all by the way. Sintra / Guincho beach is another story.) My grandfather took me by the vineyard in 1991, and all that was left of it was a patch which might befit a parking lot if you could find 15 clowns who dared to park in it. I went back again in 2001 and even that much is gone now.
I am blessed with a wonderful wife whose mother was from the Portuguese island of Madeira. My wife gave me a present a few years ago; a bottle of 1963 Taylor Fladgate vintage port.
I am now a fan of port. For reasons that will be obvious to any other port aficionados.
For value, I look for Late Bottle Vintages. No apologies necessary for tawny ports; they’re aged a long time (10-20 years) in barrels, and LBVs are aged a few years (3-5) in barrels. Vintage ports age in the bottle (hence the price). The only point at (legal) issue is whether the label says "Porto"; such wines are supposed to originate in Portugal.