I mentioned two or three posts ago that I was coughing a lot on the way to the mangrove reserve – so were a lot of other people, and it seems that something was in the air, because I woke up the morning after we left Puerto Chiapas feeling achy and brain fogged. Not to mention stuffed up and phlegmy. Until we were past the Canal, I didn’t keep the daily blog posts up very much. Puerto Caldera was written right away, as was the Super Premium Wine Tasting. The rest of the posts will be after the fact, I’m afraid.
We were late for the Port and Chocolate tasting, and I forgot to bring a pen, so I didn’t take any notes. Al made some, and I’m cribbing off his, but since I’m now writing this a month (almost to the day) after the tasting, there’s not much I remember about it (another problem with brain fog – you don’t remember stuff very well.) Much of the information here comes from good old Wikipedia, with some detours into my Wine Atlas (thank you Don and Monica!) and the little bits I do remember Cecilia talking about.
Port is a fortified wine – they stop the fermentation process partway through, so there are some sugars left, and add distilled wines to them. “True” port is produced only in the Douro Valley in Portugal, even though it’s actually made in all kinds of other places in the world. Think France and the wine names there. Same sort of thing – the only wines that can be given a particular name are the wines produced in that area. So in France, sparkling wine produced in Champagne is called champagne. A sparkling wine produced in Burgundy using the same grape varietal is called a sparkling wine. In Europe, only fortified wines from the Douro Valley can be called port.
Most ports are sweet, because fermentation was stopped before all the sugar was consumed by the yeast. Aging and vintages are different for port than for other wines because, for one thing, they’re always blended. (Even if they only add the fortifiying wine, it still means its a blend.) If you run across a bottle of port with a vintage on it, it’s a superior product. The grapes used in that port are all from the same year, and the product has been sampled by the port governing body and approved for a vintage designation. It’s usually when the growing year turns out a spectacular harvest, and there may only be a couple of those in a decade.
There are a couple of kinds of port – ruby, which is the most common. It’s aged in concrete or stainless steel or glass to keep it from oxidizing, and it generally costs less than the tawny port. This is aged in oaken barrels and the oxidation causes the red of the original wine to darken to a browny-red or golden brown. They can be sweet with nutty flavours. There are other kinds of port, but we didn’t talk about those, and I’ve never tasted or even seen them.
We had three different kinds of chocolate and a strawberry to pair with these – light, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. So . . . we tried:
Warre’s Warrior Reserve, Ruby Port from Portugal. I don’t remember anything of the taste of this one, except that it was okay and Al’s notes say that it worked with the milk chocolate.
DOW’s Late Bottled Vintage, also from Portugal, also a ruby/red port which was very nice, and went very well with a dark chocolate. Late bottled vintage port is port that’s been left over after a vintage bottling because demand wasn’t as high as expected. The port is all from a single vintage, and is bottled between four and six years after fermentation.
Warre’s Optima 10 year old Tawny Port, again from Portugal. This was my favourite, and it worked amazingly well with the white chocolate. It worked well with all of the chocolates, but it really made the white sing, and vice versa (and I’m not a white chocolate fan). I remember from another wine course we took that if you want to really impress your significant other on Valentine’s day, don’t get chocolate and champagne – get chocolate and port – and this tasting bears that out. While all of the chocolates worked well with the ports, Al’s notes indicate which ones paired the best.
Finally, we had some (sigh) Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, from Jerez, Spain. Sigh because even after the education my palate has undergone, it’s still awful stuff! The cellar master agreed with me.
Oh, and for Poe fans: Amontillado (As in The Cask of Amontillado, one of his best ever stories) is not a port, it’s a sherry (which may explain why the villain got bricked up. Yuck.)
And, for Flanders and Swann fans, Madeira is a fortified wine, neither port nor sherry (but it’s really, really good!), made on the island of Madeira, just north of the Canary Islands.
Each day draws us closer to the Canal, so I’m going to start including little bits and pieces about Panama City, the Canal and its construction and expansion. This is also partly to take up some slack, because the entire experience was so amazing that I’d end up spending five or six full posts on it if I don’t start scatting bits and pieces through other posts. So tomorrow is bits and pieces on the Canal and Panama.