Posted by Interviews | Posted on 01-27-2012| Posted in
Happy International #PortDay! Yes, that’s right. Today is the day that we all should take time out of our day to sip on the often misunderstood, often under-appreciated wine from Portugal.
I wanted to track someone down that knows a lot about Port to ask some of the questions that I’ve had over the years.
So I reached out to Andy Velebil from For the Love of Port – an amazing resource for all wine lovers. Having read his contributions to Wine Berserkers over the years, I knew Andy would be able to answer my questions.
Check out our interview below the fold.
Tell me about how you became fascinated by Port?
Shortly after college, I had just started a new job and was still basically broke. Having a brother that was far more into wine than I was at that point and some other friends who operated a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains I had been exposed to Port somewhere along the way and enjoyed it, although I knew nothing about it.
After saving some money I went down to a local wine store and asked the staff what good Ports they had. I was told by the store staff a 1966 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port they carried got good reviews.
While it was a lot of money at the time, I bought the bottle, took it home, opened it (no decanting off the sediment mind you, just pop-and-pour), and was totally amazed at how good it was. It took me a little bit to save up some money to go back and buy more, but there was a problem. They were out of the 1966 Taylor’s. Not to fear I was told, they had just gotten in the 1970 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port. I bought a bottle and again had the same great experience. That was when I totally fell in love with Port.
A love that has gotten stronger each passing year. I should mention, I still have those two empty bottles as mementos.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom those of us who are new to Port?
I always tell people new to Port to try as much as they can to find out what styles of Port they prefer. Nothing is worse than spending a lot of money building a cellar of bottles you end up not liking a year or two later.
Port also has a centuries old image where old men in smoking jackets and smoking cigars run off together after dinner to drink. This “stuffy” image of Port is one the Port industry is trying to lose and has no bearing on today’s younger Port drinkers.
I tell people to toss out that old image and enjoy Port anytime of the day or night, with or without food, and don’t just open it for those special occasions. Port is a wine and should be enjoyed everyday just like wine.
I love pairing the wine I drink with food – in your mind, what goes well with Port?
When it comes to pairing with food Port is FAR more versatile than people think. A young fruit driven Ruby Port (Vintage Port, Late Bottle Vintage, Reserve Ruby, etc.) goes very well with pizza, a good steak, and other solid foods. Older Vintage Ports tend to be better on their own, but can pair quite well with a rack of lamb or other, more delicate, foods.
Otherwise, the limits really are endless and I encourage people to experiment with various combinations and find what they like best. Port isn’t just for dessert anymore.
You mention above the notion that enjoying Port conjures up the image of men smoking cigars and drinking Port. Does that combination work?
While I enjoy a good cigar from time to time, I don’t think it’s the best of matches. I’ve never understood pairing a old Vintage Port with a cigar as the cigar dominates the flavors and delicateness of the Port. I would rather enjoy a cigar with a good Madeira. But if you do want to enjoy a cigar I’d recommend a Tawny Port (Colheita, 10/20/30/40 Year Old Tawny’s) that have some age on them, say at least 20 years old. The cedar, spices, toffee, carmel, and more prominent acidity in these older Tawny’s will complement the cigar best.
Have you seen the market for Port change in the United States?
Yes, the market has changed — not only in the USA but world wine.
Port is catching on with the younger generations which aren’t afraid to buck the old image of Port. There are new products, such as Pink or Rose Port, Port cocktails, and edgier promotional campaigns.
Port Producers have finally started to embrace social media in the past couple years with great results in reaching the younger generation. Port is also one of the last great deals in wine. Where else can a young person new to wine buy a highly rated Vintage Port at less than $100 on release. Even top tier 40+ year old Vintage Ports can be bought for less than $200 or $300 dollars.
Compare that to many wine regions where the top wines are many many times that price. As such, Port is perfectly poised for younger wine drinkers who may be just starting their careers and may not have a lot of disposable income to spend on wine.
Port is thought of as a wine that can age effortlessly for decades. For those of us that haven’t had the chance to try older Ports, can you walk us through how the flavor profile and character of the wine changes with time?
Young Vintage Port is a very big hearty wine. Big rich fruit ( think plums, blackberry, blueberries, chocolate) and massive mouth drying tannins and piercing acidity.
Then, as it ages, the fruit softens and becomes far more delicate (rose pedals, cherries, maybe some cedar notes, or a little eucalyptus or mint), the tannins and acidity integrate and balance out and no longer suck every last drop of moisture from your mouth.
Vintage Port can also go through a “phase” — often referred to by Port lovers as the “teenage phase.” Somewhere around 7 years after harvest some VP’s can tighten up and the fruit closes up, leaving a wine that is mostly tannins and acidity. Not very pleasant to enjoy in my opinion. This phase can last anywhere from another 7-15 years, thereafter the Port reemerges again and shows its greatness.
However, with better quality “brandy” being used to today this phase doesn’t seem to happen as much or for as long as it used to. The better “brandy” used today makes a young VP much more approachable than it used to be.
Personally, I prefer VP’s less than 7-8 years old and more than 15-20 years old. I try to skip those teenage years unless I’m checking in on it to see how a particular Port is evolving.
A favorite question of mine for any wine lover; tell me about your favorite Port-related experience.
I’ve been lucky to have had many great Port experiences with good friends and fellow wine drinkers. But the one that stands out in my mind was a little over a year ago in the Douro Valley.
I was fortunate to spent a few days with friends at Quinta do Vesuvio, a highly revered Port property in the far eastern part of the Douro Superior region, almost to Spain.
One day, after tasting wines and visiting other Quinta’s all day, we headed back to Quinta do Vesuvio for dinner and treading grapes by foot in a Lagar afterwards. It was very late by this time and the other quests of the Quinta had left for the evening. A few of us friends remained on the veranda which overlooks the Douro river as it flowed by on a clear warm evening. We chatted till the wee hours, enjoying each others company while sipping on some amazing Ports. When it was time to retire for the evening, or I should say early morning by that time, I took a final glass up to my room and stood on the balcony overlooking the Douro river. I was again mesmerized by the serenity and so grateful to be able to share such an amazing time with great friends. That evening will always have a spot in my heart!
A big thanks to Andy for the detailed answers. Be sure to check out For the Love of Port – it’s an incredible resource for everything Port related.
Leave a comment below with your Port-related questions/thoughts.