RAISE A GLASS
Fortify yourself with port
By Todd Ashline
By Todd Ashline
The most common question I have been hearing lately is: "What is the difference between port and madeira?"
Both are fortified wines, which means a neutral grape spirit has been added to halt fermentation and retain some of the natural grape sugars. The result is a wine that is both sweet and high in alcohol. Yet port and Madeira are quite different.
Port comes from Portugal's Douro Valley and takes its name from Oporto, the second-largest city in the country. Port as we know it dates back to about the mid-1600s, when the English added brandy to finished wine to stabilize it before shipping it to England. This idea came from the monks in a nearby monastery, who were adding brandy during fermentation to kill off the remaining yeast. This was port wine before it was called port.
There are more than 80 grape varieties authorized in the production of port. The five most important red varieties are touriga nacional, tinta barroca, touriga francesa, tinta roriz and tinta cao. For white port, the important grape varieties are gouveio, malvasia fina and viosinho.
Port comes in a variety of styles and may be white or red. Some of the most popular styles of port are:
Flavors in port vary as much as the styles. You can have soft, fruity and sweet rubies to full, rich robust in the vintage ports, to woody caramel notes in the tawnys. Ports are great by themselves, or I like tawny port with cheese and vintage or rubies with chocolate.
Madeiras come from the Portuguese island of that name, off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. Madeiras are probably the longest-lived and most resilient wines in the world. Madeiras often were shipped to the Far East and Australia. En route, they were naturally heated and then cooled every day on the voyage through tropical waters. The winemakers were unaware that the wines were being "cooked" at sea until one day a shipment was returned unsold (and presumably in tasting it, they found they like it). Since then, the heating and cooling of the wine, called estufagem, has taken place in estufas, special ovens. Drier madeiras are fortified before the process while the sweeter styles are fortified afterward.
Like port, madeira comes in a variety of styles:
The noble grapes for madeira are, from driest style to sweetest: sercial, the palest and lightest; verdelho, which has a golden color and is medium-dry to medium-sweet; bual, which is sweeter and darker; and malmsey, which is the most luscious and sweet. Other grapes are used in madeira, but the noble varietals are the ones to look for whether you want a reserve madeira or vintage madeira. Expect a baked- or cooked-fruit quality in all madeiras from the estufagem process. Madeiras are great by themselves or with a wide range of foods, including cheese, pates and nutty desserts. The range of dry to sweet makes them versatile.
A few recommendations, available here:
Todd Ashline is sommelier at Chef Mavro restaurant (www.chefmavro.com). Raise a Glass appears every other week, written by a rotating panel of beverage professionals.