Christmas port and madeira

We are two days away from the longest night of the year, Christmas is six days away, it will be cold for the next two-plus months.

Ideal time to enjoy the richness and warming effect of a glass Port or Madeira.

Port (Porto) grapes come from vineyards along the Douro River in the hot areas in the Douro Valley, away from the Atlantic, almost to the Spanish border. Juice is shipped in barges down the river to wine “lodges” in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from the port city of Porto on the Atlantic.

Gus Clemens on Wine

Fermentation starts, but when alcohol level reaches six to nine percent, brandy is added, stoping fermentation and preserving sweetness and fruitiness and increasing the alcohol level to around 20%. While port is sweet, tannins and acidity provide balance, so this delicious rather than cloying. Aging in wooden casks follows, with the length of time producing different characteristic. Ruby ports are the youngest, followed by late bottled vintage port and tawny ports—there are others, but these are most common.

Madeira is a Portuguese island 625 miles southwest of the mainland, almost due west of Casablanca, Morocco. A lush tropical garden, it produces grape varieties that become Madeira wines—malvasia (malmsey), bual, sercial, verdelho, tinta negra, and terrantez.

Temperature is defining influence in Madeira. Wines are heated to 100-130 degrees for four months or more. The finest are finished in towers where they may spend years—five years to up to a century—moving down from floor to floor in the tropical climate. Madeira must have a minimum of five years aging.

Finished Madeira is incredibly long lived. Bottles exist for sale from 1715, recent sales included bottles from 1790 and 1808. Even uncorked, they remain excellent for months.

Tasting notes:

• Warre’s Warrior Finest Reserve Porto: Great quality for the price. $17 Link to my review

• W. & J. Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto: Explosion of ripe fruit, lively, extended finish. $21 Link to my review

• Croft 430th Anniversary Celebration Edition Reserve Ruby Porto: Wonderfully round, smooth from oldest port winery. $25
Link to my review

• W. & J. Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Porto: Plush, creamy, indulgently rich, delicious. $32 Link to my review

• W. & J. Graham’s Special River Quintas Edition “Six Grapes” Reserve Porto: Rich, delicious superb balancing acidity. $40 Link to my review

• Blandy’s 5 Year Malmsey: honey, burnt caramel, butterscotch, rich red fruits. $25 (750 ml) Link to my reviews of both

• Blandy’s 10 Year Malmsey: Rich red fruits, honey, burnt caramel, butterscotch, marmalade, fig. $29 (500 ml) Link to my reviews of both

Last round: All I want for Christmas is enough wine to get me through Christmas.