Springtime Calls for White Wines and Ports
April is a transition month for many people If you’re in a northern state, you start to see robins and green grass. But for those of us in southern states, such as Florida and Texas, April is the last month for brisk mornings and low humidity.
You can have your wines both ways – port to ward off the cooler nights and white wine to cool off the warmer days. This week, we explore both.
Port has a fascinating history. It was created in the 18th century when the Brits were warring with the French and turned to Portugal for wine. Alas, the Portuguese wine had a hard time surviving the voyage to Great Britain, so some brandy was added to fortify it. The brandy increased the alcohol content of the wine but it also halted its fermentation. The sugar that was left made the wine significantly sweeter. No one, particularly the Brits, seemed to mind a sweeter, alcoholic wine, so port found a permanent niche in a world wine market.
Named after the coastal city of Porto, port uses indigenous grape varieties, such as touriga nacional, touriga franca, and tinta roriz. It comes in different styles that relate to the time the port spends in oak and how many vintages from which it draws.
We have vintage ports in our cellar dating back to 1977, but the ones we enjoy drinking now are the tawny ports. These ports are blends from different vintages. For example, a 20-year-old tawny indicates that the average age of the wines used in the bottle is 20 years. Until the wine goes into the bottle, it rests in oak barrels – this extended aging gives the wine its tawny color. Because of this aging process, the port is ready to drink.
You also can find some single-harvest tawny ports that will cost you a lot of money. Graham’s 1994 Single Harvest Tawny Port, for instance is $145, a “steal” compared to a 1940 version for $1,200. These wines have been set aside for long-term aging in oak casks.
Because tawny ports are sweet, it is a challenge to match them to food. The best approach is to serve them after dinner with chocolate, sharp cheese, walnuts or apple pie. Usually a small glass is enough for most people. You’ll need a crowd to open a full bottle, although an opened bottle of port can last a week or more.
Here are tawny ports we have recently tried:
Dow’s 10-year Tawny Port ($37). Bright red cherry and walnut aromas with ripe red berry flavors and hints of vanilla and black pepper.
Dow’s 20-year Tawny Port ($65). Showing some brown color on the rim, this exquisite port has good concentration with notes of red cherries and raspberries. Hint of tobacco and toffee. Dry finish.
Graham’s 40-year Tawny Port ($180). At this age, the port shows a more amber color and greater richness. It is very intense and concentrated with raisin and fig notes, toffee, and a hint of orange marmalade.
Just because it is still chilly doesn’t mean you have to avoid white wines. Although the likes of sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio are associated with spring, all white wine is still the ideal match to seafood. And you don’t avoid seafood in cool weather, do you?
We’ve assembled 10 white wines that will perk up your attitude and make it seem like it’s spring.
Panthera Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($45). From the Hess Collection, this lush and complex chardonnay begs for a second glass. Forward pear and peach fruit notes with toasty oak, butterscotch and crème brulee influences.
Ramey Wine Cellars Woolsey Vineyard Chardonnay ($65). Using grapes from a vineyard owned by the Martinelli family and planted to Ramey’s specifications in 2007, this beautiful chardonnay has a luxurious mouthfeel but balanced with good acidity. Nicely textured and with rich tropical fruit and apple flavors.
Brooks Willamette Valley Riesling 2016 ($20). Oregon’s rieslings are yet to be fully appreciated. This one is dry yet offers forward mango and grapefruit flavors. Refreshing acidity and broad aromas make it a great sipping wine or a paring with fish.
Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Alsace 2016 ($21). A very nice organic selection from Alsace. Pear, peaches, and mineral notes dominate this delicious white wine with a long satisfying finish. Pair with fish and poultry dishes.
Tenuta Tascante Carricante “Buonora” Etna Bianco 2017 ($21). We were stunned by this refreshing white wine made near Sicily’s Mount Etna. Made from the ancient grape variety carricante, it has a perfumy, herbal nose with lime and tangerine flavors with a good dose of mineral.
Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($18). One of the more popular sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, this ubiquitous icon has a bit of residual sugar to round off the natural, citrus tartness. Juicy pineapple, grapefruit and lemon notes.
Michael David Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($16). While most sauvignon blancs favor grapefruit flavors, this one is refreshing for its apple and citrus notes. From the Lodi region of California, it is crisp yet unctuous.
Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($42). Spottswoode is committed to making exceptional wine and that applies to sauvignon blanc just as well as it applies to cabernet sauvignon. This richly textured wine takes the grape variety to a new level. Several clones and the use of oak makes it more complex and layered. Expressive citrus aromas abound and is followed by peach flavors with a dash of vanilla.
Terlato Friuli Pinot Grigio 2017 ($24). More complex than most pinot grigios, this premium gem from Terlato has a floral nose and ripe stone fruit, pear, and lime flavors.
Stonestreet Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($45). This beautiful chardonnay has excellent structure, balance, soft texture and melon flavors.