Enjoy a vintage Port without the waiting

Vintage Port, though one of the world’s great wines, is made the same way as all Port. The grapes are harvested, crushed, and fermented for only three days, instead of the usual 7-10 days for red table wine. At that point, the winemaker adds brandy, which raises the alcohol to 20 percent and kills the yeast, stopping fermentation before all the grape sugar has been converted to alcohol. The resulting wine is a yin-yang type balance of sweetness from unfermented grape sugar and fire from the brandy.

Ninety-eight percent of Port is a blend of several years’ harvests that producers age in wood barrels for 5 to 40 years to soften its edges, rid it of sediment, and transform the grape flavors into nuances of spice, nuts, caramel, and coffee. The remaining 2 percent is vintage Port, wine made from only the best grapes from a single, and exceptional, year, and bottled after only two years of barrel aging. Although it represents the pinnacle of Port, it requires the consumer to age it for 20-plus years after purchase to allow its flavors to evolve. Moreover, you must decant it carefully before serving, leaving the accumulated sediment behind.

Over the last two decades, the trend of consumers to drink vintage Port soon after it was released prompted George Sandeman, seventh generation of the family and current chairman of the House of Sandeman, to craft Vau Vintage Port, a vintage Port suitable for earlier consumption. This brilliant idea gives Sandeman, one of the venerable Port houses, a new Port to add to its already stunning range.

Still made only in exceptional years and from only the best grapes, Sandeman’s Vau Vintage, rounder and easier on the palate when young, needs no decanting. Succulent, ripe primary fruit flavors and an ideal balance of fire and sweetness makes Sandeman’s 2000 Vau Vintage Port a welcome after-dinner drink as the temperature plunges. Its youthful flavors and preserving alcohol mean you can have a glass and recork the bottle. Still, it’s best to finish it within two days, which makes the half bottle (375 ml) a convenient size.

Sandeman, Vau Vintage Port, 2000 (about $40 per half bottle). Distributed by United Liquors, 800-445-0076. 

December 15, 2005