Like light, crisp rosé in springtime, Port is a seasonal marvel. Its hearty, fortified richness just doesn’t seem to fit before there’s some wintry snap! in the air. Where rosé brought refreshment, Port brings reinforcement.
Port—by definition hailing only from the Douro Valley of Portugal—starts out as rustic red wine; then, while fermenting, it is fortified by the addition of neutral brandy. While all Port is strong (19 to 21 percent alcohol by volume), it comes in distinct styles. Ruby is the simpleton: young, plush, overtly sweet, and least expensive. Tawnies sport a mahogany hue from extended time oxidizing slightly in wood; while a tad lighter in heft, they deliver a nutty edge and more length on the palate. Tawnies often are released as blends whose average age (10, 20, or 40) is featured on the label.
Vintage Ports, the most acclaimed and made only in “declared” (very good) years, come with not only higher price tags, but the well-earned reputation of evolving stubbornly—in bottle rather than barrel—needing 10 to 15 years minimum from harvest to smooth out.
Aries Wines & Spirits (128 W Post Rd, White Plains, 914-946-3382) has plenty of bread-and-butter wines in its main room, but the cool-as-a-chai backroom has some Port gems tucked among the cellar-worthy dry wines: Warre’s 1983 for $90; Sandeman 1985 for $60. From 2000, bottlings from Port all-stars Taylor-Fladgate and Fonseca run $100. And Aries has a gift set of Royal Oporto 1975 with two glasses for $70.
Proprietor Tony Russo notes that mature Port, including age-dated Tawnies (Sandeman 10-, 20-, or 40-year-olds run $37, $60, and $150, respectively), are solid bets quality-wise; fortification makes them especially stable.
With age, Russo says, Ports shed their more obvious sweetness in favor of roundness and complexity. If you want to get a glimpse of what mature Vintage Port is like, for a fraction of the cost, you can kick the tires of a Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port for under $25.
Enjoying Port at home on a winter night is as easy as saying cheese; the rich, sometimes raisin-y character melds well with comparably rich Stilton. Walnuts and dried fruits are other classic and easy companions. Best of all, because Port is easily enjoyed in small glasses and keeps well, a bottle can last well into the season…depending on how frigid this year’s winter is.