If there is a time of year to drink port, it is right now.
Made in the Douro region of Portugal, port wine has been a hot commodity for centuries. The British have played a major role in its production and evolution, as indicated by brand names such as Graham’s, Churchill’s and Taylor.
Native producers have been equally important, as have other foreigners such as Dutchman Dirk Niepoort.
Vintage port is king. Made only three times a decade, in the very best years, vintage-dated wines can outlive a Subaru. Tawny ports are aged in oak for an extended period and can, at the 30- and 40-year levels, cost just as much as vintage port.
Then there are late-bottled vintage ports, which are made in many vintages. LBVs spend more time in wood than vintage port, though less than tawny, and they age more rapidly and cost less. However, if you just want to get a well-crafted bottle to sip on cold, rainy nights over the next few months, finding what is essentially an elevated ruby port made by a very good producer is the way to go.
Typically made from several of the big five grapes — touriga nacional, tinta barroca, tinta cão, tinta roriz and touriga francesca — they are fruity, spicy and fresh, and reflect the style of the house.
Here are four of the best on the market:
- Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port: Brother and sister João and Catherine Roseira run this small estate. A truly remarkable house, the ruby provides a peek of what you will find should you choose to explore the other wines. Rich yet not cloying, it has brambly plum, blackberry fruit interlaced with traces of cocoa powder and black pepper. Suggested retail: $18
- Quinta de la Rosa Lot 601 Ruby Port: Tim Bergqvist and his daughter, Sophia, run Quinta de la Rosa. As the name suggest, they have Swedish roots, but the Bergqvists have been entrenched in Douro for more than a century. The property is known for its red tables wines as much as its ports, if not more so, but this ruby is one that should not be allowed to slip through the cracks. Unlike a lot of port, it has a red-berry character of bing cherries, raspberries and plums and a long, semi-sweet finish. Suggested retail: $18
- Ferreira Ruby Porto, Doña Antonia: The oldest Portuguese-owned port house in the Douro, Ferreira was founded in 1751. Laden with black cherries and plums, and a dash of white pepper, the midpalate is richer and sweeter than the finish, leaving your palate intact for the next sip. Suggested retail: $19
- Smith Woodhouse Ruby Port, Lodge Reserve: Originally founded in 1784 by a British member of Parliament, Christopher Smith, the Symington family has owned this house since 1970. They make one of the best LBVs on the market. And though this is not quite as complex, the Lodge Reserve has vibrant acidity not common in port. Brimming with fresh black cherry, blackberry fruit, bittersweet chocolate and black pepper, it will satisfy a sweet tooth without the guilt. Suggested retail: $20
Some of these ports can be found through Arlequin Wine Merchant, Beltramos Wines & Spirits, K&L Wine Merchant, San Francisco Wine Trading Co., Solano Cellars, The Wine House, Cask, Cheese Plus, Noe Valley Wine Merchant, Paul Marcus Wines, The Spanish Table and William Cross.
Pamela Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.