Wine Advisor – Port: Strong, sweet and red

I’m one of those people who was apparently born without a serious case of sweet tooth. Put something salty and crunchy in front of me, and you’d better get out of the way. But when it comes to dessert, while I can take it, I can generally just as easily leave it. (With the possible exception of chocolate-chip cookies or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.)


So when it comes to sweet wines, I’m pretty much the same way. Sauternes? Barsac? Beerenauslese? I’ll take a taste, probably, if someone else is pouring, but the “stickies” that make many wine lovers swoon don’t really jump up at me and yell “Drink me!”

But I’ll mark an exception here, too: Open a bottle of Port, and I’ll be right there, glass in hand, awaiting my ration like a baby bird opening wide for a treat.

What makes the difference? Well, I love red wines, complex, interesting and tannic; and Port, after all, is one of the few sweet wines that is indisputably, deeply and unmistakably red.

Port – the real stuff from the Douro Valley in Portugal, that is – ranks as one of the world’s great wines, dry or sweet, and collectors clamor for the Vintage Port style, made with such respect that it’s only issued in years when nature cooperates to create a wine that’s up to the region’s high standard. Accordingly, while Vintage Port may not be the world’s most expensive wine, it can get right up there in price.

But for those of us who love Port and want to be able to enjoy it without making a major investment or waiting years for it to mature, there’s a reasonably close alternative at a fraction of the price: Late Bottled Vintage Port.

Often nicknamed “LBV,” this is a Port made from a single vintage, but held in oak barrels for four to six years, long enough to soften and mellow the wine without fading it to tawny. This makes a relatively affordable wine with a lot of the style of a Vintage Port and some ageworthiness, but it can be drunk young and needs no decanting.

Take care not to confuse LBV with “Vintage Character Port,” which is sort of an upscale non-vintage Ruby. It, too, can make decent drinking, but it rarely approaches LBV quality and offers little or no price advantage over LBV, which generally sells in the $ 20s and is well worth it.

For today’s tasting, I picked up a bottle of Porto Kopke 2005 LBV Port, a fair buy at a penny under $ 25. From one of Port’s oldest producers, it offers a good sample of Port style without the price or the wait of the traditional vintage version. In fairness, it lacks the gravitas of Vintage Port, but affordability and accessibility make it more than a fair trade.

It was fine for after-dinner sipping, good with sharp cheese, and – I’m a little embarrassed to add this – it was amazing with a mini Reese Cup, creating an explosive combination of sweet fruit, milk chocolate and peanut butter. PB&J in a glass? Maybe.

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