Warm up in winter with glasses of Port

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Great Northwest WineDecember 24, 2013 

Is there any better way to warm up on a cold winter's night than with a glass of Port?

The sweet, high-alcohol wine might just be the perfect wine when snow is swirling and you want to do nothing more than sink into a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace.

Port originates in the Douro Valley of Portugal, and the tradition of creating the sweet, high-alcohol dessert wines goes back more than 300 years. The wine is made by fermenting wine until brandy or another spirit is added to kill the yeast and arrest the fermentation. The result is a wine that is typically anywhere from 4 to 10 percent residual sugar and anywhere from 16 percent to 22 percent alcohol.

While drinking Port by itself is a great joy, consider pairing it with such foods as chocolate, nuts and fresh fruits. Perhaps the most spectacular food pairing in the world, however, is Port with blue cheese, particularly Stilton, Roquefort or Gorgonzola.

In the Northwest, longtime winemaker Wade Wolfe has become the region's most prolific producer of Port-style wines. Wolfe came to Washington from the University of Arizona in 1978 as a viticulturist for Chateau Ste. Michelle and launched his winery in 1987.

He makes no fewer than six styles of fortified wine -- five reds and one white -- at Thurston Wolfe in Prosser. Wolfe uses the traditional Portugese varieties, as well as such grapes as Zinfandel and Muscat.

Here are four of Wolfe's Port-style reds, all sold in half-bottle formats. They are made in small amounts. Contact your favorite wine merchant or call the winery at 509-786-3313.

-- Thurston Wolfe 2010 JTW Reserve, Washington, $16: This fortified dessert wine blends three Portuguese varieties grown in the Yakima Valley -- Tourica Nacional from Lonesome Spring Ranch with Tinta Cao and Souzao from Upland Vineyard -- in equal amounts followed by barrel aging for 26 months. That explains the aromas of Raisinets, cinnamon toast, Ovaltine and cedar. The rich and smooth entry brings generous flavors of strawberry, black cherry and plum with orangy acidity. Only on the second pass do the espresso ground tannins begin to develop, while the residual sugar (10 percent) and the alcohol (19 percent) are skillfully integrated.

-- Thurston Wolfe NV Tawny Port, Horse Heaven Hills, $16: Wolfe took his Port-style program to another level with this extreme effort that began in 2005 with four barrels of fortified Zinfandel from Washington's Zephyr Ridge. It spent the next eight years untouched outside his winery in Prosser as the "angel's share" left him with only three barrels by the time he bottled it this fall. That was by design as the ullage makes for gorgeous aromas of ripe plum, fig, coffee, golden raisin, vanilla bean and Tootsie Pop. Inside, it shows skillful integration of alcohol and remarkably rich flavors of cordial cherry, poached plums, molasses and Starbucks Coffee Liqueur.

-- Thurston Wolfe 2010 Touriga Nacional Port, Yakima Valley, $16: Last spring, this fortified dessert wine won a gold medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, and it hasn't lost a step. This traditional Port-style variety hints at strawberry, Craisins, Raisinets and wintergreen in the nose. Flavors of dried cherry and chocolate give it richness as it transitions to a finish of strawberry pie. The adroit integration of alcohol makes this dangerously easy to enjoy.

-- Thurston Wolfe 2010 Zinfandel Port, Columbia Valley, $16: This small lot was harvested from Zephyr Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills, then matured in barrel for 26 months. The charming nose of strawberry jam, raspberry pie, cherry, dark chocolate and violets leads to lip-licking flavors that continue with chocolate, strawberry and raspberry. There's richness on the midpalate, pleasing acidity and almost no hint of the brandy used to halt fermentation.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.

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