Ports Worth Trying

The holiday season is the perfect time for dessert wines


The holiday season is prime dessert wine drinking time for several reasons. It’s hard to drink a lot of dessert wine. They come after a huge meal and many other wines. We are full. Please not a wafer, no!

Add in the fact that many dessert wines are high in alcohol and pack in a ton of sugar and you can see why it can be so challenging to finish a bottle. That’s where your friends and family come in! They’ll finish a bottle of dessert wine in no time, right? Heck, they’ll drink anything if they're like my friends and family. Not true, my family has been well-trained by yours truly.

That means we can’t break out the swill for their disposal. Looks like it’s going to have to be something decent that won't break the bank.

The signature house style Ports from the big houses fit the bill perfectly. They are great values at usually under $20 a bottle, are produced in a consistent house style and are typically delicious! I’ve tried a few recently, along with a Late Bottle Vintage-style Port from California just for fun, and they’re all worth checking out as each offers a slightly different expression of what Port should be.

Share one or more with your besties this holiday season, and here’s a tip, don’t save it for the end of the meal. Port makes for a great after dinner drink as well. Serve it with a few nuts (not your friends, the other kind) and some cheese and it’ll drive the conviviality well into the night!

Dessert Wine image via Shutterstock

Fonseca Bin 27 $20

Very floral and decidedly spicy with hints of juniper, coriander and balsam as well as a touch of pencil eraser framing the black raspberry and fig fruit aromas. Very smooth on entry, silky even and a touch lighter in weight than many Ports. The palate shows a fine base of tannins with unusually clear plum and cherry fruit. This is fairly structured in the mouth with good freshness to the flavors that turn spicy on the moderately long finish. Exemplary, this has it all. Balance, complexity and a wonderful texture. 90pts

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Sandeman Founder’s Reserve $20

Lightly aromatic on the nose with hints of evolution that make the nose reminiscent of a tawny Port. Light touches of caramel and sweet root vegetables mingle with tight candied blackberry aromas. A bit sweet on entry, this uses its sweetness well, balancing it with flavors that mimic the edge of evolution shown on the nose. The fruit here is pretty red for Port, featuring cut plums, raspberries and a really fine edge of dried orange peel. Complexity replaces power, with lovely chocolate and liquorice tones popping on the long, very focused finish. 89pts

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Graham’s Six Grapes $20

Floral and almost herbal on the nose with layers of tea like aromas adding really intriguing complexity to the base of cocoa-dusted, dried cherry fruit. Soft and easy going in the mouth, this doesn’t come off as particularly sweet but might benefit from a little more acidity adding some liveliness to the palate. The flavor profile is lovely and full of black cherry. Faint medicinal tones, hints of pollen, raspberry, black currant and caramel are all melded together into one subtle and smooth package. The finish is kind of structured with dusty tannins and more than enough acidity to refresh the palate. 88pts

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Cockburns Special Reserve $20

Tarry and licorice scented with some pencil shavings and Tootsie Rolls adding complexity over spicy, slightly jammy grapey fruit. Moderately sweet but well balanced and medium-bodied on the palate, with a nice, gentle spiciness surrounding the black grape, currant and blackberry fruit. The sweetness is a bit more obvious on the finish, which shows decent length and a nice licorice liqueur note on the finale. 88pts

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Valley of the Moon LBV 2007 $30/500ml

With a dusty, slightly vegetal and yet sweet nose, this is very much in the classic Port model, featuring an underlay of earthy black currant and tobacco aromas. One is immediately struck by how smooth this is. The tannins slowly work their way out, but this is one velvety wine right off the bat. The fruit is a bit candied with mint, chamomile and peppermint patty nuances on the palate. The finish is a bit short with a nice if subtle return of peppery blackberry and plum skin flavors. 87pts

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Slideshow View

Port Wines for the Holidays

Fonseca Bin 27 Porto (2013)
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Sandeman Founders Reserve Port Sandeman Foundrs Reserve (NV)
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Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Graham's Six Grapes Reserve (NV)
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Valley of the Moon Lbv (2007)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 772

    Some of the signature wines from the Port houses are nice but I prefer the LBV wines. The Osborne 2007 is one that comes to mind. The Quarles Harris 2006 LBV is another nice one. Also the Dow's 2005 is good.

    From Australia, there is a nice tawny from RL Buller called Victoria Tawny- very nice.

    On the home front, the 2009 Bella Gemma from Ruby Hill (Livermore) is quite special. Although more expensive than the above wines, it is also more complex with tar, berry plum and spice. It is a three grape blend of Petite Sirah, Zin and Barbera. I gave this rich monster a 96 score.

    Nov 29, 2012 at 3:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Fernando64
    1162375 28

    Gosh.....where's this from? Port wine is portuguese!!! What's this?

    Nov 29, 2012 at 7:46 PM

  • Snooth User: charmept
    Hand of Snooth
    1159653 33

    Ok. Can you explain me please Champagne from France, Grappa from Italia and Port wine from Portugal. And now imagine all over the world we will start to copy this products.....hm i am sure we will find in the next time very good wine etc. made in china. cheers!

    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:59 AM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 997

    I still rather stick to my 20 yr. tawny ports for maximum satisfaction. Ramos Pinto is one of my favorites.

    Nov 30, 2012 at 2:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 772

    So should the Tino Cao grape not be allowed to grow outside of Portugal?

    Nov 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM

  • Folks - Port is "originally" from the Duoro & crafted from Portuguese varietals; however there are damn fine producers in the New World - i.e. Australia and South Africa crafting authentic Port-styled fortified wines for the past 200 years or so. Heck, there's even a little town, Calitzdorp, in the Western Cape, where all the producers craft Cape "Ports" (yes - the EU made them drop the Port moniker) from 100% Portuguese varietals - including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Souzao, Touriga Franca & Tinta Roriz - and even better, they're making table wines from these varietals as well. These folk even have lagares & craft each wine according to the style. @zinfandel1 come try one of our Cape Tawny "Ports" and you might change, although a fine 20yr Graham's is quite delicious served chilled. The world of wine - it's all about discovery.

    Dec 01, 2012 at 2:14 AM

  • Snooth User: charmept
    Hand of Snooth
    1159653 33

    Well, I am a proud Portuguese and am upset on my government they do nothing against this acts to protect our brands just the French do like for the example with the champagne or cognac. And I think further that we sometime can copy everything, and I will see the reaction of the Americans when they catch someone copy American product, we would the Americans react??? I say only Apple versus Samsung......

    Dec 01, 2012 at 7:45 AM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 997

    I would love to try South African Tawny Port 20 yr., but they are not available in my area.

    Dec 01, 2012 at 7:54 AM

  • Snooth User: charmept
    Hand of Snooth
    1159653 33

    You shoul try a Vintage from Quinta da Pacheca from 2000, 2003 or 2005. For me one of the best. You can find this on my page.

    Dec 01, 2012 at 8:01 AM

  • Where is the Warre's Otima 10?

    Dec 25, 2012 at 6:04 PM

  • I am missing the Warre's Otima 10 from the list.

    about the EU law of origin and quality it is a big bogus, how on Earth can Slovakia produce Tokaji then? But we could argue over this subject forever, merry Christmas to you all!

    Dec 26, 2012 at 1:17 PM

  • Snooth User: alfadoctor
    1029242 19

    My wife got for me a bottle of Quarles Harris Tawney Port 2004. Not big on bouquet, strong webs, nice red color, goes down smooth with a clean finish, and available at Trader Joes for a great price. My favorite is Yalumba Museum Reserve dessert wine from Australia. Fruity to the nose, sweet on the palate like a Muscat, strong webs, and a little goes a long way. Every one I serve it to wants some more. This is definitely a sipping wine.

    Jan 20, 2013 at 7:37 PM

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