The Short Buzz: Drinking the Essence of Douro Valley

Posted by R.K. Gella

The last day of the NYC Wine and Food Festival finished with a spectacular arrangement of seminars hosted by notable beverage writers, educators and producers. 

On Sunday afternoon at Del Posto, George Sandeman – representing the seventh generation of the legendary House of Sandeman – talked about the tradition of tawny port and its future.

Trying through the ports in ten-year increments, one captured baked cherry and vibrant peach in a young 10 year and ended with hazelnut, cedar, leather and vanilla in a mature 40 year.

For many, Port evokes thoughts of an old boys club, pontificating aloud after dinner centered on topics of the economy and politics through a rich haze of cigar smoke.   Recently, a more sensual image has been fostered, aligning port with romance, chocolate and seduction.

Granted, a versatile marketing team is pertinent, but also acknowledge the pliability of the product.

Port wine or Vinho do Porto or Porto, is a fortified Portuguese wine that comes from the specific area known as the Douro Valley.  Any port style wine not from the designated Douro Valley cannot officially be labeled as a port.

The character of Douro wines is influence largely by the river that cuts through the hillsides.  Because of the sloping hillsides on which the vineyards rest all the fruit must be harvested by hand. 

The five key grapes used in production are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francesca and Touriga Nacional, although there are over a hundred varieties that can be utilized.

During fermentation, a carefully observed process, distilled grape spirits  (brandy) is added to kill the yeast therefore ceasing fermentation.  This technique not only raises the alcoholic content of the wine, but also results in a presence of residual sugar, which adds sweetness to the wine.

Of the various styles of port the most popular are the bottle aged ruby ports and the barrel aged tawny ports. 

With rich red tones and luscious berry fruit, ruby ports are claimed to be better suited for Portuguese palates, while tawny ports, with baked fruit and cooking spice flavors, are overwhelmingly more appreciated by English palates.

And as mixologists have rediscovered their roots, port cocktails have become trendy once again.  The earliest cocktails were not made with vodka or its flavored counterparts instead bartenders used a mixture of aperitifs, digestifs, bourbons, gins and ports.

Death and Co. here in NYC is known for classic flavored cocktails.  Here is one of their port cocktail.

The Baltasar and Blimunda

0.5 oz. Sandeman 20 Years Old Tawny Port

2 oz. Beefeater Gin

0.5 oz. bitters

0.5 oz. vermouth (Punt e Mes recommended)

Stir. Serve up and garnish with flamed orange twist.

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