Patrick has ceased sipping port after dinner. Times are tight. So wifey is on a mission to find some tasty bottles that can be purchased for around a Hamilton.
Last week, Pat sat down with college chum Frank for some affordable port tasting. “A port hangover is a horrible thing,” warned Frank. “The sugar just crucifies you.”
“I’m apologizing now to you for the sugar hangover,” I replied, pouring the first bottle of 11 ports lined up across the counter: the Krohn Tawny Porto ($7.99 at San Diego Wine Company in Miramar; 858-586-9463).
“Tawny is the brown. It’s made a little differently — they let it go to caramel, as opposed to sweet fruit,” explained wine-aficionado Frank.
“The alcohol floats up to the top of the nose,” he grimaced. “It attacks sweet but then doesn’t finish sweet. Remember that medicine we used to take as kids that would have the ‘alcohol burn’ at the end?”
“Robitussin cough syrup,” answered Pat.
The next bottle, Fonseca Tawny Porto ($10.95 at San Diego Wine Company), was port light. “It doesn’t have that viscosity that you look for in port,” observed Patrick.
Frank held up a glass of the Dow’s Fine Tawny Porto ($11.99 at BevMo). “Look at that caramel color,” he said. “Not much nuttiness, lots of caramel, the right thickness — just what I look for in a tawny port.”
Pat, holding a glass of Quarles Harris Late Bottled Vintage ($12.99 at Trader Joe’s), sniffed, “Smells more like wine.”
“Hard to tell it’s a port,” said Frank. “It could almost be a late-harvest zinfandel. I get some of that fruity character that I sometimes get off zinfandels when they get really ripe. It’s lighter than what you would think of as port; it doesn’t have viscosity, but it does have the richer flavor than the tawny.”
Warre’s Heritage Ruby Porto didn’t appeal to the panel ($9.99 at BevMo). “The flavor is not balanced,” said Pat. “The alcohol is too forward. It’s hot.”
The Sheffield Tawny Port ($4.99 at Vons) was also a loser. “Smells like green stems…a little sour dairy,” offered Frank.
“This looks like a Kelly-family bottle of port,” said Frank, holding up the double bottle of Fairbanks California Port ($8.49 at Vons).
“Park me down by the Dumpster — this will keep me warm all night,” joked Pat. “The lightest color…at the edges, it’s absolutely clear. Like the Sheffield, it’s very stemmy and underripe.”
“The texture is all wrong — too watery and sweet, in a bad-Halloween-candy way,” offered Pat.
“Like a Jolly Rancher,” added Frank.
“No, that is an insult to Jolly Rancher,” said Pat. “Like a Now and Later.”
The testers popped open the Almiro Ruby Porto ($7.99 at BevMo), which had a candied quality to it. “Something to have with blue cheese after dinner,” said Frank.
Evenus Zinfandel Port ($9.99 for a 375ml bottle at Trader Joe’s) was another keeper. “The zinfandel port has the virtue of smelling like zinfandel,” explained Frank, “so you get that pluminess, that cooked blackberry. Because it’s a zinfandel, more than some of these others it has this tannic structure to it, so it’s heavy but not syrupy. It has real body.”
“Like everything else, there is the virtuous mean — some ports cross over the line to syrup,” added Pat. “I love this Evenus — just what I want in a port. Kind of coating your throat and feeling warm. Like the feeling of putting on a cashmere sweater — it’s warm but soft, as opposed to a wool sweater which is warm but stiff and scratchy. You want your throat to feel warm after a sip of port and yet still feel like you could sing.”
“‘Like a cashmere sweater’? ‘Like you could sing’?” Frank bellowed, amused by his old pal’s similes.
“I’m actually drawn to that shaped bottle,” admitted Pat, holding up the Presidential Porto ($12.99 at BevMo).
“Like a little squat Englishman,” said Frank.
“Though the Evenus bottle has a feminine curve to it that I also like,” continued Pat. “But I digress. This Presidential finishes a little short, but it’s nice and round, no edge to it. I would have no problem passing this around at a dinner party.”
The last bottle, a recommendation of a friend, pushed the “around $10” bottle limit. Quarles Harris 10 Year Old Tawny Porto ($14.99 at Trader Joe’s) was the brownest of the bunch. “More nuts, a little bit of that almond bite, less caramel, more of a sherry character to it,” critiqued Frank.