Pete Ste­wart and Andy Gemmell

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food + Drink - By Pete Ste­wart

De­cem­ber is with­out a doubt the time for for­ti­fied wine. There’s noth­ing like sit­ting in front of a roar­ing fire with a glass of port on a frosty night. The ad­di­tion of brandy to the wine was orig­i­nally a way to pre­serve the wine on the sea jour­ney from Douro. Port is al­ways for­ti­fied dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, which halts the fer­men­ta­tion process leav­ing a resid­ual sugar in the wine. That’s why port is al­ways sweet. Sherry (on the other hand) is fer­mented out to com­plete dry­ness be­fore for­ti­fi­ca­tion, which al­lows a range of styles on re­lease as you can sweeten the sherry af­ter for­ti­fi­ca­tion by the ad­di­tion of a sweet wine such as Pe­dro Ximinez.

The port grapes in­clude Touriga Na­cional and Tinta Roriz,which is the lo­cal name for Tempranillo (the main grape of Rioja). Port will be aged ei­ther in cask or in the bot­tle. Ruby ports, tawny ports and LBVs (late-bot­tled vin­tages) are ready to drink on re­lease. The full-blown vin­tages re­quire more pa­tience.

White port is also avail­able, but I al­ways think of it as a sum­mer aper­i­tif in a tall glass with ice and tonic. It’s for­ti­fied in the same way as other ports, but us­ing white grapes in­stead of red.

Tawny ports tend to be la­belled as 10, 20 or 30 years old with prices to match. The wood in­flu­ence makes for a lighter wine in your glass, and I like these wines lightly chilled. Try a bot­tle of the Kopke 20 years old Tawny (In­ver­ar­ity One to One, £37.99) as a per­fect ex­pres­sion of the style. It’s lovely on its own, or with a mild, creamy blue cheese.

The late-bot­tled vin­tages are the most com­mon ex­pres­sions on the mar­ket, es­pe­cially at this time of year. They are flavour­some and ap­proach­able with­out the need to de­cant, and they are a lovely way to end an even­ing with friends in front of the afore­men­tioned fire. You’ll find Tay­lor’s, Gra­ham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s in all the su­per­mar­kets this Christ­mas and they are all very tasty. Gra­ham’s is slightly sweeter and Tay­lor’s longer-lived but they are all of a sim­i­lar qual­ity.

Tay­lor’s Late-Bot­tled Vin­tage Port (Sains­bury’s, nor­mally £13, cur­rently on of­fer at £10). This is a su­per port, even at the full price. If you can pick it up at a ten­ner, it’s even bet­ter. Pete Ste­wart is Glas­gow di­rec­tor of In­ver­ar­ity One to One, 185a Bath Street. www.in­ver­ar­i­ty­mor­ton.com

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