Good Spirits > Love at First Taste

As winter settles in around New England, my thoughts naturally turn toward more formidable, sturdy wines. A rich red from Bordeaux (or a foursquare zinfandel or Rhone wine) can be counted on to provide sustenance on a swirling, sub-zero evening. But lately, I find myself reaching more for port, a wine that has everything going for it. Well-made port is a smorgasbord for the senses, offering succulent fruit, complex flavors and exotic spice aromas—all focused by a distinct sweetness.

Some people have trouble (or think they have trouble) drinking a sweet wine. Despite having grown up drinking soda and eating sugary snacks, many Americans seem to have a hang-up about drinking only dry wines. Handmade Swiss milk chocolate is sweet, too, but I don’t see a lot of people turning it down. Serious wine drinkers give anything a try, including the delectable niche of port and dessert wines.

Port is known as a fortified wine. It’s sweet because, after the grapes are crushed and the juice (or must) starts fermenting, the process is stopped before all the sugar in the must turns to alcohol. This is accomplished by adding neutral wine alcohol or brandy to the must, which kills the yeast. This process also increases port’s alcohol content to around 20 percent. The most common grapes in port are touriga nacional and tourigo francesca.

There are three main types of port: ruby, tawny and vintage. Ruby is vibrant, intense, spicy and full-bodied wine blended from younger wines of numerous vintages. Tawny port is much less fruit forward and shows varying shades of amber-gold, depending on its age. Instead of overt dark fruit, tawnys show aromas and fl avors of spice and burnt caramel, vanilla and toffee. Simple tawnys are not very interesting, but ten- and twenty-year tawnys can be captivating. Vintage port is blended from what producers believe to be their fi nest lots of wines, all made from grapes grown in the same year. It’s the only port that continues to mature in the bottle.

Port excels at pairing with desserts, particularly chocolate. To avoid a gastronomic train wreck, wines consumed with dessert must be as sweet or sweeter than the dessert itself. In this respect, port is heaven-sent because its rich, complex fl avors create a luscious synergy with any equally compelling dessert.

More restaurant-goers are discovering this delicious combination and ordering port by the glass, says Karen Andruszkiewicz, a manager at Michael Timothy’s in Nashua. Port has a lingering quality, she says. “It’s another way to extend the evening, to sit and relax. Port is just a very lingering substance,” Andruszkiewicz says, noting that many of her guests inquire about the restaurant’s port selections.

As a Valentine’s Day treat, Michael Timothy’s is offering a trio of chocolate desserts: créme brûlée with artesian chocolate, chocolate mousse with a cherry and port reduction sauce, and a warm chocolate pecan tart. These will be served with Sandeman twenty-year tawny, which is one delicious port. The special will be available from January through the end of February.