When planning drinks for your holiday parties, you might want to add some dessert wines to your shopping list. Serving them at the conclusion of a meal while guests linger over coffee and cakes helps the evening end on special festive note.
One type to consider is port, which is a sweet, fortified wine that can be made anywhere, including Missouri. However, if it’s called Porto, it must come from Portugal. The name comes from the fact that these wines are shipped from the Portuguese city of Oporto. True Porto must come from a specific region in Portugal’s Douro Valley. To make Porto, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine during the fermentation process. This boosts the alcohol level to 18 percent to 20 percent.
Portos are made in a number of styles and sweetness levels, and they can range greatly in quality and price.
Among the less expensive styles are young ruby and tawny Portos. Ruby Portos are fresh, fruity and deep red, while tawny Portos tend to be softer, more delicate and amber in color. These wines are best served a little chilled.
I tend to prefer tawnies because they are a great match with dark chocolate, my favorite dessert ingredient. They also go well with caramel and nut flavors. Aged tawnies are the most delicious, but they are also expensive. However, if you shop around, you can find affordable nonvintage tawnies that are quite yummy.
Because of that, I thought it would be interesting to compare two in the under $15 range. I found just what I was looking for at the Wine and Cheese Place, 7435 Forsyth Boulevard in Clayton. One of the wines was the Hardy’s Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny from southeastern Australia and the other is the Quinta do Noval Tawny Porto. These are nonvintage wines and both are priced at $14.99.
Hardy’s, which was established in 1853, says the tawny is named after Whiskers Blake, a “roguish little bloke” who worked at a winery vineyard around the turn of the century. His job was using a shotgun to scare birds away from the grapes. To make sure his hard work resulted in a quality product, Whiskers regularly “borrowed” a bottle or two of the tawny to test the wine.
The Whiskers Blake, which has gotten rave reviews from wine critics, has a mouthwatering chocolate-caramel-nut aroma that made me want to sip it immediately. Aged in small oak casts for eight years, this is a smooth fortified wine with an 18 percent level of alcohol. This tawny is made in a very sweet style, and I agree with one reviewer who compared it to drinking a liquid candy bar.
However, because I tend to like after-dinner drinks that aren’t that sweet, I preferred the Quinta do Noval, which was a richer and less cloying wine. Quinta do Noval, one of Portugal’s oldest port houses, dating to 1715, describes this tawny as being medium sweet in style. This Porto, which also received high marks from critics, is a bit bigger in body and complexity than the Hardy’s tawny. It is also a little higher in alcohol at 19.5 percent. Aged for more than three years in oak, the Quinta do Noval is more brick red in color than amber, and it has layers of concentrated currant and dark chocolate flavors with hints of spice.