Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wine - Port

Last, but not least, in my series of posts for this month's Mixology Monday theme of Fortified Wine: a port-based drink from the vaults of the Cocktail Database.

Port is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal (though wines in this style are produced in many other parts of the world). The name is derived from the coastal city of Porto, where the wines were loaded for export. The wines are produced from either red or white grapes (nearly one hundred different varieties are permitted). After the juice is partially fermented, grape neutral spirit (auguardente) is added to bring the alcohol concentration up to 20%, killing the yeast and halting fermentation. This is done so that residual unfermented sugars are left. The wines are then either stored in steels tanks to prevent oxidation before bottling as ruby ports, or aged in oak barrels to oxidize and evaporate, producing tawny, vintage, or late bottled vintage ports. Tawnies are aged in oak for a minimum of two years and up to decades before bottling. Vintage ports are from a particularly good harvest and are aged in oak for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, gaining in quality the longer they are in the bottle. Late bottled vintage ports are aged in oak for between four and six years before bottling, gaining in quality after bottling only if they are unfiltered. As a general rule, the longer a port spent oxidizing the barrel, the longer it will last after being opened - it's already oxidized, so air can't do much more.

1.5 oz cognac
0.5 oz dry vermouth
0.5 oz port

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose has a lot of off-dry grape notes - reflecting the contributions of each ingredient - inflected with the vermouth's aromatics and a touch of green apples. As the drink warms, the nose becomes richer with brighter fruit notes - the port and cognac playing a more assertive role. The sip begins lightly, with flavors building towards the back. The cognac comes in first, augmented by the port. The flavors become drier and more aromatic towards the back as the vermouth gains ascendency, leading into a slightly astringent palate-cleansing finish. As the cocktail warms up, the acidic bite of the vermouth becomes stronger, making for a snappier drink.

This is a very grape-centric drink, so you have to like those flavors to enjoy this one. As pointed out by Fred, the drink can be changed significantly by the ingredients used. I went with a pretty well-aged tawny port, so it doesn't shift the drink out of a dry mode. A sweeter, fruitier ruby port would make it more counterpoint instead of point (especially given the young and fruity Hardy VS cognac I used) with the vermouth. To make it even more aperitif-like, building the drink over ice and adding some soda water would tame it even more. Either way, it's a very pleasant cocktail without a lot of alcoholic heat.

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