The Uncorked Dork: Port, The Other White Drink?
GOOD food calls for good wine. But good doesn’t have to be expensive or pretentious. That’s the philosophy of edible Tampa Bay’s very own wine expert, the Uncorked Dork, who serves up irreverent wine know-how for folks who like wine, but don’t want to be so serious about it.
Port. For many, the drink conjures up images of book-lined studies where white-haired gentlemen sit in leather chairs swirling their glasses and blowing great puffs of cigar smoke into their dim surroundings.
And while port and cigars can go well together – give me a Maduro-wrapped stogie and a glass of vintage port and I call it dessert – there’s so much more to this wine than those preconceptions.
In fact, with more than 100 varieties of grapes sanctioned for port production and a range of results based on the fermentation process, there’s a very good chance you can find one for just about any wine drinker and any occasion. So what exactly is port?
If I’m a bottle of wine at a family reunion, port is my rich cousin who always shows up half in the bag and is, therefore, best experienced in small quantities. That’s because port starts out as regular wine, but then is fortified by adding a distilled alcohol that stops the fermentation process and leaves behind residual sugar. The result is a sweeter wine with a higher alcohol content – typically around 20 percent.
That said, there are a lot of factors – from the grapes used to how the wine is aged after fortification – that produce an extremely wide variety of results.
For example, the “serious” port of leather chairs and cigars is typically a tawny port or – for those willing to be patient and cough up a little coin – a true vintage made from a single extraordinary year’s grapes, barrel-aged, then laid down to age further in the bottle. Meanwhile, ruby port – the most affordable and readily available style – is typically aged up to three years in stainless steel or other containers that tend to create a simpler, smoother result.
This is significantly simplifying a pretty nuanced topic, but I only get so many words, so I’ll cut to the chase. While a glass of more traditional port is a nice way to start or end a meal, as the days get longer and hotter, you might want to check out white port. Some may turn their noses up, or even question my sanity. But I’d argue that the key is to stay away from comparisons and simply take white port for what it is.
The name can be a bit of a misnomer – the actual liquid can be pretty dark, depending on how long the wine is left to age – but it does start out with white grapes. While there are more complex, drier versions that pair well with cheese plates or other simple fare, the light, sweet and, yes, inexpensive white ports that can be found on your local wine shop’s shelf can make for a perfect springtime drink. Now, not that I envision myself as the European nightclub type (there’s a little too much waxing and bad cologne involved with that), but the kids do have something right: They’ve discovered the benefits of white port as a mixer. It’s not quite as strong as liquor, but has a bigger kick than a glass of wine … and no one will think you’re tacky for having ice in your mixed drink.
If you’re so inclined, try it out. Here’s one idea that’s straightforward, but will make you as cool as those hot night clubbers … or at least cooler than an old guy in a library.
White Port & Tonic
This alternative to the classic gin and tonic is a basic one-part to three-parts blend of two liquids. Make a serving by pouring a single shot of white port (1.5 oz) over ice, then topping it off with tonic (approximately three shots, or 4.5 oz) and perhaps a twist of lemon or lime. You can easily increase the quantities to make a whole pitcher to share … if you do, throw in a handful of mint (squeeze it a bit to release the oils) and some slices of orange to make it look and taste like summer. In either case, topping with a shot of dark rum (let it float) is another option that kicks things up a bit.