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Vintage Ports

Ocean’s new wine cellar houses fine, old ports.

By Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Port has a history of being the wine that men drank while smoking a cigar—after the women had left the room. That was then. Now women drink wine alongside the men at the bar. And I recently had the pleasure of tasting Warre Vintage Ports with George Reis, executive chef and owner of Ocean and 26. These ports are a recent addition to the wine list at Ocean and 26. And another recent addition to Ocean—its wine cellar—provides a space for the restaurant to lay down some older bottles, such as the Warre Vintage Ports.

Port is a fortified wine—named for the city of Oporto, Portugal. It is also known as Vinho do Porto or simply Porto. The Portuguese invented Port. Yet the story goes that it was the British who capitalized on it. In 1678 two Englishmen went to Viana do Castelo to study wine trade. They found the wine of Abbot of Lamego, which had been fortified with Brandy, the best of all they tasted, “very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth.” They bought the entire stock and shipped it to England. And eight years prior to this, another Englishman, John Clark was building the Port business that would become Warre & Co.

Fortification includes the addition of natural grape spirit to the fermenting juice, which thereby intentionally interrupts the fermentation process, when approximately half of the grapes’ natural sugar has been converted into alcohol. This fortification develops the Port style, its aging potential and helps stabilize the wine for shipment. Barrel aged Port is made to be drunk immediately. And bottle aged Port benefits from aging. A vintage is the year in which a wine is made. Yet most vintage port producers limit their production of vintage Ports to only the best years—typically a few per decade.

Today George and I taste three vintages for Warre’s Vintage Porto: 1994, 1983 and 1970. Warre’s Vintage Porto 1994 is inky purple in color with firm tannins, and aromatics of cistus. This port is fruity and enjoyable now but will also benefit from aging. The Warre’s Vintage Porto 1983 is ruby in color, is mid way in its maturity and drinking well. Pulling the cork on Warre’s Vintage Porto 1970, George and I share the same surprising yet obvious realization—1970 was 42 years ago… But one smell of this gorgeous port tells us where and how its time has been spent—in a bottle and aging very well. The wine is tawny in color, full bodied and offers memorable notes of coffee and caramel. And compared to Warre’s establishment as the first British Port House in 1670, 42 years does not seem like such a long time after all.

Published, B-Metro, October 2012

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