Port for the Holidays

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One reason I look forward to the holidays is the excuse they provide to open bottles that seem pretty indulgent. Tops on my list is port, whose rich, fruity warmth seems perfect at the end of a grand winter dinner. And its sweet, velvety texture matches everything from salted nuts to rich sweets like Belgian chocolates or plum pudding, that I try to studiously avoid for most of the calendar.

My pick this year? Dow’s 20-year-old tawny, with its dried-fruit scent (think apricots), wonderfully smooth texture, and tangy, lingering finish.

Founded in 1798, Dow’s is part of the Symington Group of family-owned port houses, and known for its elegant style. Like all great port, it comes from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, a place of stony soil, steep hillsides, spectacular gorges, and searing summer heat. An English creation, port is a fortified wine — alcohol is added to interrupt fermentation and retain a small percentage of residual sugar — and a world classic.

One of several port categories, tawny is second in status only to vintage port, but requires much less fuss. It’s ready to drink when purchased, and doesn’t require decanting. Aged in barrel for 10 to 40 years (two decades is ideal) until it attains a golden-brown color and a memorable, pungent flavor, a tawny is so versatile at the table that it nicely contrasts various cheeses — especially blue types — and its deep fruitiness will even stand up to my aunt’s fruitcake. Besides being the ideal tree-trimming wine, it’s also a great sipper while gift-wrapping, sitting by a roaring fire with friends who’ve dropped by, and when reading a good book.

Tawnies aren’t cheap, but at 20 percent alcohol, a couple of ounces in a small tulip-shaped glass is a generous pour and the wine won’t deteriorate for weeks. Keep it in a stoppered decanter, if you have one.


Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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