How to Open the Doors of Portception

With (deep) apologies to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell along with Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and the Doors of “Peace Frog” and more:

If the doors of Portception were cleansed every thing would appear to people as they are, Infinite. For people have closed themselves up, till they see all things thro’ narrow chinks of their vinous cavern.

There is one large reason I see for the doors of Portception to be closed for many. I discovered it during a wonderful harvest trip to Portugal sponsored by Symington Family Estates. The good news is it’s something very simply fixed and will promote Port pleasure. Perhaps you’ve tried Port in the past on one or more occasions and found it a bit “meh” or even disappointing/overwhelming/not to your taste. This is what you need to do:



You must chill…your Port.

The vast majority of red wines are consumed at temperatures far too high. So when you get a a fortified wine like Port, where you’re looking at alcohol by volume (ABV) levels of up to 20%, drinking it warm exacerbates its booziness to the detriment of all finer qualities. I can’t tell you how this made such a huge difference on this trip. I’ll also say that the weather was in the upper 80s and 90s in the Douro and we ate outside a lot. In the shade, but still. You wouldn’t think it was “Port weather.” But it was a comfortable delight to pass around the cheeses and cap a meal with some Port.

How to Open the Doors of Portception

I would like to drink a glass of Port right here / Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira / Photo: Shana Clarke

Now lets talk food and Port. I know that the classic match is with strong blue cheeses. Which we had none of. Which was more than fine. I don’t necessarily want Port’s role reduced to taming the most  intense(ly flavored/smelling) cheeses. I want it more as a complement. So I really enjoyed it with some milder cheeses ranging from a bit runny to firm.

As far as desserts go, again, don’t want to swing to the extremely sweet side of things. A more complementary dessert would be something with nuts, a little savoriness, but not cloying. The chilled temp also makes it more food-friendly.

CAVEAT: Please do not misunderstand me when I say chilled. I am not saying fill up a cooler with ice water and dunk that bottle of vintage Port for hours and drink it at an arctic temperature akin to a PBR/Rainier/Narragansett etc. It should be cool to the touch. Also, it’s going to warm up in your glass. Err on the side of too cold rather than room temperature. Unless your room temperature is like that of a basement/cave (aka my idea of heaven), you’re going to need the use of your fridge.

How to Open the Doors of Portception

The view from Quinta dos Malvedos, looking across the Douro River, in the morning light.

The House Style

How to Open the Doors of PortceptionI was thinking about an article my friend/colleague Courtney Schiessl wrote, “5 Ways That Port and Champagne Are Alike.” Does that sound kind of nuts? Sparkling and see-through versus fortified and fuerte? Well, it’s spot-on. One of the interesting tastings we had was a look at 2016 vintage Ports from Symington Family Estates’ houses.

Just as you may like Bollinger or Taittinger or the style of a certain Champagne house, Port producers have a similar signature. Perhaps you’ll dig Graham’s unique notes of mint or Dow’s drier finish, (Note: these were not qualities I divined as an expert Port taster but comments around the table from folks much more Portceptive than me.)

Non-Wine Activities in Porto

I made the best of a long stretch of free time between hotel arrival and first group dinner.

  1. Took a little walk on a pier.

2. Had an idyllic lunch at O Travessa. Who wouldn’t want to sit on this oasis of a patio?

3. Visited the very cool Serralves Museum and strolled through the lovely sculpture park. How about the natural light inside this Anish Kapoor piece?

So go ahead and bust out of that virtual cavern and experience the infinite by drinking Port with a chill.

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Patience Becomes Virtue (About 40 Years Of Vintage Port)

“I hate waiting…”

So… I promised a follow-up to that 2016 Vintage Port preview, and since I’m a man(-child) of my word, here ’tis!

The central theme of my `16 VP roundup was that we all need to slow the f*ck down and accept the fact that Vintage Port not only takes a looooooong time to come around, and that a) many of us might be dead before newly-released VPs are fully developed, but we should buy them for future generations, and b) your patience regarding waiting on the slow maturation of VP will be well rewarded.

It’s time for us to get to the “b)” part, as we take a trip back through roughly thirty years of time, beginning with 2007 (when we were lamenting the state of our 401k balances) and ending with 1980 (when we were wearing JAMs, listening to disco, and some of you were probably snorting cocaine). We’re going to walk through a tasting of some of the world’s best “recent” Port vintages (with an average price per bottle of a staggering $367), from a tasting at which I was a media guest in NYC because, well, my life totally rocks (for more on the background of the various Port houses and their respective VP styles, see this post).

Alrighty then, wipe your nose and let’s get to it…

Patience Becomes Virtue (About 40 Years Of Vintage Port)

2007 Fonseca Vintage Port, $100

Big, tight, powerful, and still sporting youthful elements. It’s like a rambunctious pre-teen right now in terms of its attitude, in that it’s showing what it can do – in this case in the form of spice, licorice, mineral, mint, rum raisin, chocolate, and fresh and dried plums – with both verve and a haphazardly charming lack of self-consciousness. In any case, it’s clearly healthy, and being raised correctly.

2003 Croft Vintage Port, $90

Exotic, herbal, deep, and spicy, this is stunning. The palate moves quickly to rum, cigar, and opulent black fruits. I was pleasantly surprised at how drinkably smooth this opulent beauty is right now, though it clearly does not lac for structure. You’ll want it with some kind of dark chocolate, provided that you can wait about 15-20 more years, I mean.

2000 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, $100

Rum, smoke, black cherries, prunes, spices, mint, raisins, leather, tea… all of that, and a silk purse, too, at least in terms of palate feel. This is VP excellence personified, and available at the relatively reasonable price of $100 (yeah, I know…) when you consider that you could gift this to your grandchildren and it will still be VP excellence personified then, too.

1997 Warre’s Vintage Port, $100

In a word, a classic. It’s actually even lovely at turns, with the type of freshness not usually associated with dessert wines in general. Yeah, you get raisin and licorice and richness, but you also get fresh plum, violets, and an overall sense of elegant loveliness.

Patience Becomes Virtue (About 40 Years Of Vintage Port)

1994 Quinta do Noval ‘Nacional’ Vintage Port, $2000 (that’s not a typo)

Harvested when I was still in undergrad, this rarity offers notes of resin, brambly spices, herbs, rum, dried fruits, mint, black cherry, green tobacco, and pepper. It’s not only one of the more complex noses you’re likely to ever encounter on a VP, but it’s also one of the more texturally fascinating; powerful, young, structured, bold, and packing some vibrancy to help weave it all together coherently into something very much closer to art than to craft. In other words, it’s ridiculously, almost life-alteringly good.

1985 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port, $220

Delicate balance is achieved here between the riper, drier, spicier fruits and the cigar, walnut, and developed characteristics that you’d expect from thirty-plus years in bottle. The finish is forever, powerful and tinged with rum. You’ll need to like them big and powerful, but if you do, there are few better than this.

Patience Becomes Virtue (About 40 Years Of Vintage Port)

1983 W & J Graham’s Vintage Port, $155

Wood spice, stewed plums, spices, minerals, prunes, raisin, rum, mint, and a craaaaazy amount of concentration and length, there’s plenty left in the tank here both in terms of longevity and power. This is more hedonistic pleasure than it is contemplative specimen, but this level of hedonism kind of needs a brand new yardstick to be invented in order to accurately measure it.

1980 Dow’s Vintage Port, $170

Holy shit. Holy. SHIT. This is colored almost like a much younger wine, and the palate entry is superb: hearty, substantial, and unfolding from intense, extracted plum and brandy flavors into a soft and perfumed experience that includes stewed fruits, slate, raisin, wood spice, eucalyptus, green tea leaves, espresso, cocoa, and probably a ton of other stuff that I forgot to write down after I more or less had my mind blown and just decided to drink it instead of to taste it. So, yeah, i guess it was okaaay


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Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

Who cares about port? I scale waist-high snow mounds and leap slush puddles to attend a tasting of Noval ports yesterday. It was well worth it. Christian Seely (left) with Michael Quinttus of Vintus, who imports the wines.

Christian Seely, the erudite and affable managing director of Quinta do Noval since 1993 (and head of AXA Millesimes), flew into New York to lead a tasting at the new tasting spot, Journée. Available for the assembled scribes were three incredible groups of wines: Colheitas, vintage, and the Nacional, a vintage bottling from a select parcel of old, ungrafted vines that almost always makes the most coveted wines from Noval and from the region. The Quinta

celebrated its 300th anniversary last year, so all the more reason to break out some old stuff.

Seely underscored the importance of terroir to the wines since, unlike most other houses, Noval sources their fruit exclusively from their 143 ha (357 acres) of sloping vineyards on the banks of the Douro River. The soil type is largely the same–schist varying from gray to brownish–but the elevations vary, ranging from 150 meters (500 feet) to 450 meters in altitude. He says that while there is a house style in the top ports that is often linked to blending while at Noval there is a house style that is linked more firmly to the vineyard and the terroir can be tasted over the vintages.

We started with Colheita wines, which means vintage in Portuguese. But unlike “vintage” (in English) ports, Colheitas are from a single vintage but the aging occurs in barrel for (vintage ports, by contrast, do most of their aging in bottle). As such, they are more accessible at a younger age. Some of the port from the colheita barrels get bottled as such but some of it can get added to tawnies and some of it simply evaporates (about 1.5% a year). As Seely said, making colheita is not exactly the type of business proposal that would excite a bank manager since it has such long time frames.

Although he makes Colheitas ready to “pop and pour,” he bottles them with a long cork, as with the vintage ports, so that consumers can continue aging them in the bottle. Another little known factoid about colheitas is that because they have more exposure to oxygen during the aging process, they are more robust after uncorking: Seely said that you can enjoy a colheita in largely the same condition for a couple of weeks after uncorking whereas a vintage port tends to go south after about 48 hours.

A key question for us was: what age makes a good Colheita? It depends what you want to do with it: drink it, or be fascinated by it. The sweet spot seems to be about 15-20 years. At this point, as with the 2003, 2000 and 1995 that we tasted, the wines have good complexity and spicy qualities but are not yet incredibly concentrated. As we reached farther back in time, the colheitas became darker in the glass, with a golden-green tinge at the rim, and much more intensity. The 1976, 1968 and 1937 were all in this category: fascinating, unctuous yet still spicy and something you want to sip and savor and talk about world events that were happening when the grapes were still on the vine.

Things were only just heating up at our tasting though as we had some revelatory comparisons. On the vintage side, 2011 was an absolute show-stopper, the wine of the day for me up to that point. (find this wine) While I usually find young vintage port to be an almost impenetrable blend of enamel-staining tannin, nostril-searing alcohol, and gobs of sweetness, the 2011 is big but incredibly balanced. Drink now or drink at any point in the rest of your life. If you can find it that is, since it was sold out long ago. The 2003 is approaching drinkability while the 2012 and 2013 both seem very solid but, for me, are in the impenetrable phase now.

A trio of Nacional vintages helped me focus on differences. The 2011 and the 2003 Nacional were both much more concentrated than their Vintage counterparts. The 2003 vintage is more drinkable now but the 2011 Nacional has tons of stuffing, all of it balanced. Really, really impressive. (find this wine) Seely said that the Nacional parcel has miserly yields with small berries, which contribute to its distinctiveness. He said that pouring the wine blind for people often results in guesses that the wine is 20 years younger than it actually is. I can believe it.

The 1967 thus was eye-opening. Since I don’t have a ton of experience with older vintage port, it showed how the tightly wound younger vintages could unfurl. The wine has amazing integration and a complexity that could turn heads simply from the aromas of mocha, coffee, faint spice and tobacco. A silence came over the room. The wine was a good weight, not overly viscous, and on the palate, it was a sumptuous blend of all port characteristics. It’s only January, but I’ve already had a contender for wine of the year in my book.

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

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