Well-aged Vintage Port is one of the finest things in life. Its cheaper cousins, Ruby, Tawny (aged for a long time in wood), 'Vintage Character' and 'Late-Bottled Vintage' are fine stuff as well. A quick summary:

Port (or Porto) is from Portugal. Wines from other places made in the same style often call themselves "port" but that's a bit like sparkling winemakers using the name 'Champagne' as a generic name for their product.

Vintage Port is the most expensive wine made from the best grapes of from one harvest. The bottle won't say 'vintage' on it, it will just have the producer and the date, i.e., Warre's Porto 1983

Ruby Port is usually the cheapest wine, made from grapes that didn't make the cut for the vintage wine and usually not from one specific year ("non-vintage" or "NV").

Tawny Port is basically Ruby Port that has aged in wooden barrels for a set number of years (some will say how long, i.e., "10-year old").

Vintage Character Port is port made in the style of Vintage Port, except it's often a blend of various years, so it's cheaper.

Late-Bottled Vintage Port is vintage-dated wine that isn't quite good enough to have made the Vintage Port.

A Colheita Port is a vintage-dated tawny.

After the Ports are sweet reds of one stripe or another.

Port and Port-Styled Wines

Boplaas Late Bottled Vintage Port Calitzdorp 1997 ($13) (Boatloads I): Medium dark ruby color, browning lightly at the rim. Smells very tobaccoey, dark pipe tobacco hints over a base of plum and tar. Medium-plus sweetness, the tobacco fades in the middle and a strong licorice streak rises up and dominates the finish, almost overpoweringly so by the time it's done. Oddly and distractingly flavorful, too much tobacco right off, then too much licorice. Decent and drinkable, but the two-tone flavors don't help. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen NV Shiraz Port (Blind Syrah): Amber red-brown; nose of dark leather, caramel, soy sauce and rust. Weird nose, but it does kind of grow on you. Rich and rusty in the mouth, tangy & slightly medicinal, light to medium-sweet. (8/16/99)

Churchill's Porto Agua Alta 1992 ($20) (Iron Winegeeks): Dark garnet, purply at the rim. Nice dark core of purply-earthy berryfruit, dusty and brambly and tangy. Medium-lightly sweet, not a big dense wine, just a nice young core of dark fruit that has just begun to spread, tangy and with a medium-weight, slightly rough matte mouthfeel. Needs time, but is nonetheless very pleasant in its purply youth. (2/19/00)

Cockburn Fine Ruby Porto NV ($11) (Boatloads VI): Cherry cough syrup with a lot of sugar. Simple, one-note cherry flavors, low acidity, relatively light in both flavor and interest. [Buy again? No reason, no.] (12/05)

Quinta do Crasto Vintage Porto 1994 ($35) (New Wine Achievers): Dark garnet color, sniff, sniff, light, quiet nose--light plum, cocoa, along with something weird, a white peachy pit-fruit or lemon-zest note that smells like a stray white wine note that has stowed away in the porty recesses. Tastes medium-lightly sweet, dark berryfruit and very light hints of brambliness, a restrained style of port, not a lot of high or low notes, but elegant and silky and slightly soft, with a bit of a burn on the finish. Not quite all there but not at all unpleasant either, a very middle-of-the-road experience.

Croft Late Bottled Vintage Porto 1997 ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Very red-berried, sweet and low-acid and soothingly velvety, a soft, rich wash of dark berry fruit. Quite rich, but lacks mouthgrab and complexity, preferring to just sweep over my tongue with a wave of sweet dark redness. Still, it's hard to put down. (11/06)

Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Porto 1996 ($17) (Winterfest '03): Cocoa and dark raspberry, tastes sweet and soft and glossily plush, rather pillowy and vague but soothingly sweet and dark! Loosely-knit and amiable, no great shakes but perfectly pleasant, if simple and straightforward! (1/22/03)

Dow's 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto (Bury My Heart at 360 Van Brunt): Yup, it's tawny. I don't drink a lot of tawny, but when I have this I can't remember why. The butterscotchiness is just right, there's a happy vein of orange zest, the wine is sweet and rich and far more layered and yielding than the '00, a very pleasant husky-sized tawny. (1/05)

Dow's Vintage Porto 1977 (Manuel and Josie): Is showing beautifully, pale ruby-amber and smelling of muted berry and caramel and earth. A sip, and it's a winner, medium-light and tangy in the mouth, lightly sweet with rich feathery-earthy clay-red berry fruit just sliding seductively across my tongue and down my gullet. This wine seems light, but sneaks up on you with a surprisingly powerful punch of multilayered flavors. Truly delicious. (4/23/00)

Dow's Vintage Porto 1983 ($35) (Island Jeeb): I've written this one up many times, but this may be its best showing yet. Earthy and darkly cocoaberried, the dark smoky brambliness that has been only hinted at in past showings is now more assertive, giving the wine a bit more scope and weight. It's still just past medium sweet, with dark red clay, a touch of fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate notes on the finish. Not a profound porto, but awfully charming now and seemingly developing a little more oomph. (3/23/03)

Dow's Vintage Porto 1994 Cask Sample (Muscajeeb): Matte red-brown nose, rich baker's chocolate and dark berry. Sweet, dark and fleshy, a chewy young buck of a Porto. I don't know why this is labelled as a cask sample, but it's awfully friendly for an infant, easier going than the regular '94 Dow's, more open. (11/10/02)

Dow's Vintage Porto 2000 (Bury My Heart at 360 Van Brunt): Dark and rich-smelling, black raspberry and baking chocolate aromatics. Tasted equally cocoaberried, relatively sweet and monolithic, good focus, a broad-beamed youngster that seems to have a lot of potential but is so young and solid it's hard to judge now. Dark bramblefruit in the middle, turns towards tarry cocoaosity again on the finish. Sweet, rich, very nice, if perhaps a bit more imposing than you'd want right now. (1/05)

Duff Gordon Porto 1994 ($14) (Boatloads IV): What to make of a vintage port from 1994 that sells for fourteen bucks? The cork disintegrates on contact, but let's give it a shot... hmm... bricky-brownish color, more developed-looking than I'd expect... smells warm and cocoaberried, quiet aromatics, sweet dusty cocoa, tea, tree bark and dried berry. Tastes muted and rather old, the medium-plus sweetness coming to the forefront and giving the earthy-bricky fruit the whiff of simplicity. This port is cooked. Yup, there's heat damage here, although it holds it pretty well and it comes across kind of like a caricature of aging, there's no denying it's too old for such a young wine. Still, as I said it does hold it well, the dried-fruit quality melding with the forepalate sweetness to lend a kind of preserved charm to the wine. If good chenin holds corkiness better than any other wine, vintage port holds heat damage better than anything else (besides Madeira, obviously). The heat on the finish is accentuated as the sweetness lingers only briefly, leaving a licoricey aftertaste. There's also about an inch of pure chunky sludge at the bottom. Pretty good for cooked wine, but not a buy again. [Buy again? Didn't you hear what I just said?] (6/05)

Ferreira Vintage Porto 1985 (New Value Region): Smells grapey and earthy, hints of brick dust . Tastes sweet and crisp with fine balance, but also simple, with purple grape-candy flavors predominating. Inoffensive. (12/22/01)

Fonseca Porto Bin 27 ($14) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Dark and grapey, vintage character-styled, hints of shoe polish on the nose. Smooth black raspberry flavors well up in the middle, underpinned with dark smokiness. Decently rich, nice balance, not a great deal of character or substance, but a well-made and very serviceable wine that does its job. Medium-sweet, medium-bodied, pleasantly light on its feet, quite flavorful in a small way. (5/03)

Gould Campbell Vintage Porto 1980 (Robin in the Big City): Deep garnet, very slight browning around the rim. On the nose, toffee, muted raspberry & caramel. Soft & fleshy in the mouth, the edged of this wine have gone soft and feathery while the core is still rough and grainy. Slightly medicinal-Robitussiny, a soft, open wine with a lot of sweetness and a lot of accessible, if slightly simple flavors. (2/7/00)

Graham's Six Grapes Porto NV ($17) (Winterfest '03): Rich plum-cocoa smellies, whiff of dark shoe-polish, dark berry-plum fruit. Sweet, chewy-dark porto, vintage-character type, baker's chocolate, bitter chocolate finish, simple flavors but rich flavors, touch of complexity, decent acidity, bit of heat, pretty satisfying all in all. Interesting texture, glossy veneer hides underlying matte chewiness. Not bad at all. (1/22/03)

Hardy's Vintage Porto 1983 ($17) (Swedes Invade): Matte dark purply-garnet with a black core. Slightly grapey dark earthy plum nose. Tastes tangy and very muddy-earthy, shot through with peppery-plum shiraz flavors that have turned nicely layered and semicomplex. Medium-sweet, with some interesting stuff going on and good balance. Pretty good "port," if you don't mind a shirazzy riff on the theme. (3/24/00)

Hoopers Vintage 'Port' 1985 (Nonoffensive Notes): Very light color, medium-light ruby, ambering at the rim. Lots of cocoa on the nose, earthy red fruit with cocoa powder. Fairly sweet and light bodied but the earthy matte ghost of red berry fruit has spread and feathered nicely--a light, sweet, earthy, feathery wine that has some light acidity to go with the light flavors and flows into a long cocoa-puff finish. Small and light, but very pleasant. (3/20/00)

Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port ($12) (Joao/Kansas): Almost the same color as the Tawny, only a bit more reddish and lacking the brownish cast. Plenty of dense earthy brambly berryfruit, dark and grittily rich through the midpalate and staying keyed on red through the smooth finish. A great deal of character and depth for a ruby port. Twelve bucks? Lisa, if you're reading this, go buy some of this please. HURRY! (3/2/00)

Quinta do Infantado Tawny Port ($12) (Joao/Kansas): Matte dark reddish color, with a slight brownish cast; slightly nutty berry-based aromas, seems redder than most tawnies, more berryful. Tastes earthy--matte red clay mouthfeel with an overtone of nuttiness. Nice balance, good crispness, medium-light sweetness. Very tasty. (3/2/00)

Quinta do Infantado Tawny Port NV ($15) (Boatloads XI): Red clay and maple syrup aromatics, earthiness mingling with a quiet nuttyberryosity. Medium-sweet, not quite as interesting to me as the Ruby version--the tawny-woody flavors aren't really integrated with the red-clay flavors of the fruit-- but very pleasant and drinkable, with an unassuming composure. [Buy again? If they're out of the Ruby, yes.] (11/07)

Quinta do Infantado 20-Year-Old Tawny Port ($35) (Joao/Kansas): Translucent brown-red-amber. Nutty-almond dominates the nose, more nuttiness, less fruit. Nice, but I actually prefer the freshness of the regular Tawny. (3/2/00)

Quinta do Infantado Vintage Character (Organic) Port NV ($15) (Thoresa): A deep muddy garnet wine, tasting of dark red berries and crushed brick, with a streak of baker's chocolate. Medium sweet, earthy, a darker and more concentrated version of their lovely ruby, matte-textured and rich. (10/7/01)

Quinta do Infantado Vintage Porto 1989 (Joao/Kansas): Not getting much of a nose on this one... I swirl and swirl, but it's very quiet, soft dark red fruit, hints of similar earthiness as the ruby, but fainter, more muted. Tastes a little muted and quiet, too. Not a whole lot going on. Curiously mute--João says it's matured already. (3/2/00)

Quinta do Infantado Vintage Porto 1992 ($24) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Medium muddy ruby. Smells of earth, crushed brick and muted raspberry. Medium-sweet, with a matte mouthfeel. Smooth, small and diffuse, an easygoing, unfocused wine that is flavorful and correct but rather genially vague as well. I'm just tickled that we can find Infantado port at Long's Drugs in Honolulu. What a world! (5/03)

Quinta do Infantado Vintage Porto 1997 ($45) (Robin in the Big City): Dark purply-black. Brambly-nettley-raspberry reduction sauce nose. A dense and tight wine, hard and a bit unyielding. Not as overwhelming as the 97 Niepoort, this is a slightly smaller-scaled version. Very rich, fairly sweet and full-bodied, hard & tannic, a bit much now, but there's lots of potential here a few years/decades down the line. (2/7/00)

Knapp 'Ruby Port' Finger Lakes NV ($15/500 ml.) (Foodies 2): Smells vaguely of cherry-cassis and plaster. Tastes thin, watery and pallid red stuff with a bit of sugar. Vapid wine, priced significantly higher than good ruby port from actual Port houses. What, as the kids are fond of saying, is up with that? (2/03)

Niepoort Colheita 1987 ($33) (August Is the Cruelest Month): A much less dense wine with a tawny-nutty edge, nutty goodness mixed in with light, earthy muted red fruit. Warm and light, a medium-sweet wine that is feathered brown at the edges and comes across as a nimble, bricky mouthful with enough development to squeeze all of the potential out of lesser material. Nice. (8/7/01)

Niepoort Porto Quinta do Passadouro 1997 ($30) (Winterfest '03): Dark! Smells of dark black raspberry and red clay, baker's chocolate! Rich, red and darkly earthy! Not black and huge like the regular Niepoort 1997, and not so brambly, but dense, rich and supple in a bricky-earthy way! Very nice!! (1/22/03)

Niepoort 'Senior' Fine Old Tawny (Occult Wines): Medium gold-brown, with amber at the rim. Big smells here--lush, rich toasty-nutty nose, with darker shoyu and brown sugar hints underneath. Tastes as big as it smells, quite sweet and richly nutty-dark, with an orange rindiness flickering in on the midpalate and hanging in till the end of the flavor road. A big ol' tawny that packs quite a fine old flavorful punch. (5/15/00)

Niepoort Vintage Porto 1992 ($25) (Loirenatics): Mmmmm... a rich, dark, muddy-earthy nose--cloves, caramel, nettles (nettles?), brown sugar and other dark aromas drift around in my glass, keeping me warm as I watch Andrew and Brad taking turns searing their fingers. The shrimp experiment is a complete if noble failure. However, the port is wonderful, dense and densely flavored, caramel and raisiny-tasting, deep and earthily rich. A beatiful wine. (11/20/99)

Niepoort Vintage Porto 1997 ($35) (Bradcave): Deep purply-black color; brambly, dusty dark berry fruit on the nose, which is tightly-wrapped, but yields up hints of cocoa, earth and black raspberry if you press it. A sip, and this is one dense little critter, big and fierce, coiled up tight and gnawing on its own tail. Some of the more delicate shrinking violets around me find it too intense to be pleasurable, but I find it a fairly compelling infant. I'm a fan of the style, and this one seems like a serious winner to me, although the next bottle may want to wait until our 20th anniversary in 2017. (12/19/99)

Quinto do Noval Vintage Porto 1966 (Geekfest '99): Decanted for three or four minutes, this one continued to open up nicely in the glass as the night went on; pungent nose--nutty dark marshmallow/vanilla/orange rind; sweet & rich & creamy, with considerable heat on the finish, especially at first. Medium-crisp, dark and progressively more and more complex and smooth as it opened up. Nice. (6/5/99)

Quinta do Noval Vintage Porto 1967 (Cult Madness): Fairly dark muddy garnet, only slightly browning. Still looks fairly young. Open, pretty and muted berryfruit tinged with toffee--medium bodied and balanced with some nice firm acidity--red-brown berry settles on your palate like feathery-soft ash. Elegant and long. (2/8/00)

Quinta do Noval Vintage Porto 1982 ($30) (Cape Mayhem): Happily cocoaberried, brick dusty and brown-earthy smelling, with warm softly feathered red-brown fruit spreading out slowly along my tongue. This is a wine I've found to have serious bottle variation, but this is a good one, warm and rich and smooth, a wine with no sublime high or low notes but with a pleasurably complex middle range, medium sweet and warmly striated. (5/26/01)

Quinta do Noval Vintage Porto 1987 ($30) (Cape May Geeks): Cloudy medium ruby color with some browning, and the nose is soft and velvety, very perfumey and girlish, mutedly redfruity and earthy-smelling. Tastes soft and brickish, brown sugar and cocoa hints with a red berry fruit core, feathery around the edges. This is a wine with good crispness, but no high or low notes, no dark brambly bass. It's very nice, but in a very limited, silky middle range. (6/3/00)

Quinta do Noval Vintage Porto 1997 ($65) (Trilateral Offline): Deep purply-black. Rich, lush, berry-brambly-nettley nose, cocoa and spice, thick and dense-smelling but fairly accessible and open. Fairly sweet, maybe sweeter than I like, but there's a ton of rich, deeply coiled fruit and good acidity. A compelling infant. (3/14/00)

Osborne Late Bottled Vintage Port 1999 ($12) (Boatloads VI): Red clay and plum-cocoa aromatics, gently and simply aromatic, two- or three-tone. Sweet dark raspberry-chocolate flavors, just a bit grapey, simple and rather bland but there's enough richness and sugar to keep the wine pouring. [Buy again? Yeah, you could do worse.] (12/05)

Pousada Porto 1994 ($30) (Winterfest '03): Surprisingly open and accessible, it's not concentrated but it's got good rich flavorful red fruit and lots of cocoa and baker's chocolate! Quite nice, chewy and medium-sweet! (1/22/03)

Quarles Harris Tercentenary Porto 1980 ($35/.375)(Baseball Jeebus)): Medium ruby, with more sediment than I've ever seen in a porto, the bottom inch of the bottle is solid chunky goop. Smells soft and sweetly earthy-cocoaberryish. This has come along nicely, now seeming quite smooth and complex, with good grab. Not a big wine, it's well balanced within a limited scope, but the fruit is mellowed into earthy red-brickiness, soft and pleasant. There is a bit of heat on the finish and the fruit does not have a long sustain, but this is in a good place now, feathered out nicely at the edges but with a tangy dark core. A subtle wine with nice manners. (10/24/00)

Chateau Reynella Mclaren Vale Vintage 'Port' 1981 (Return to Kane Manor): Matte dark garnet color, deep purply-earthy-dark. Smells plummy, blackberry and earth and pepper and tar. Tastes just like it smells, deep and plummy-tarry, medium sweet, lots of earthy purple flavor, rather ponderous in the mouth but I like it for its uncomplicated richness and purply-earthy flavors nonetheless. (6/10/00)

Romariz Colheita 1963 ($60) (September 15, 2001): Tawny and rich, vibrantly walnutty and butteryscotchy aromatics. Quite sweet and intensely nuttily flavorful, not terribly layered or complex but a nice dense mouthful of tawny port. (9/15/01)

Quinta della Rosa Porto 1988 (Greg Gets Us Wasted): It smells of cocoa powder and muted red berry fruit. Tastes quiet and skinny, in the middle the cocoa turns towards baking chocolate but the fruit fades out, leaving an impression of dilution. Light bodied, lightly sweet and cocoaberried, it's an unchallenging mouthful of smoothly inconsequential entertainment, but it goes down easily. (3/02)

Rozes 20-Year-Old Porto (Kane Manor): Amber orange-brown; earthy nose of cloves, orange rind, vanilla; medium-bodied tawny flavors. Fairly crisp, but also fairly sweet & simple, taste echoes the nose. (7/24/99)

Sandeman's Porto 1963 ($110) (Age-Related Drunkenness): Light at the edges, fading into ethereality, but with a ruby core. Smells feathery and lightly spicy, old burnished stairway banister, cinnamon, earth and faded berry redness. A sip, and it's medium-sweet, brown-earthy flavors spread out from a muted berry/crushed brick core. Faded at the edges but still lively at the center, it's a smooth, layered wine with an air of slightly faded gentility. At forty years old, it's nearing the end of its journey, but there's still life and pleasure to be had before it fades into the twilight. (9/17/03)

Quinta Santa Eufêmia Late Bottled Vintage Port 2000 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Plump, cocoaberry aromatics, tastes glossy-silky and medium-plus sweet. Smooth and easygoing, a gentle, flavorful little port with velvety flavors and a hint or two of depth. Nothing profound, but not bad. (3/06)

Taylor-Fladgate Porto 1945. (Best Wife): This smells rich and fierce and spicy, cocoa powder and muted red berry laced with crushed brick. Hey, it's sweet and portlike. In fact, it's Port. Medium ruby color, just the faintest hint of browning at the rim. Sweetly festive cinnamon-spicy nose, muted berry and crushed brick laced with cocoa powder. Tastes smooth, supple and seamless, a calm package of light but intense flavors that turns rather surprisingly fierce in the middle when a slightly medicinal red tang emerges, then soothes and smooths again as it heads into the cocoaberry finish. Lovely stuff. The wine seems quite young, but so did the last and I'm not getting fooled again, so I go older than I ordinarily might. My guess: '55 Dow's. (9/03)

Taylor Vintage Porto 1955 (Haut-Brion Ambush): Oh, boy, I'm a sucker for this; rich, rich nose, brown sugar, cocoa, raisin, molasses--brown and rich and complex. A sip, and it tastes just as good as it smells--densely-flavored, with layers of flavors that commingle beautifully. Medium-bodied, but concentratedly flavorful. Delightful, and after the first wave of departures a few of us hard-core types sit for awhile and squeeze the last of the juice from the decanter. (12/4/99)

Torga Vintage Porto 1995 ($35) (St. Andrew): Dark red-earthy berryfruit and pepper predominate on the nose; this is a flavorful, lighter style of porto, as if it were one-third table wine--sweet, but not full-on sweet, with nice bracing acidity seeming to bring out the red berry flavors. Very tasty, with a nice earthiness that brings me back down pleasantly after the gonzo Justin. (1/15/00)

Torga Vintage Porto 1997 ($35) (Super Bowl): Rich deep purple-edged garnet color. Smells of red clay, Play-Doh. Sweeter than the 95 but still not terribly sweet, dark and brambly, meaty-textured in the piehole, dark red berry fruit over a crushed-brick stony earthiness. Great balance, young and a little hard, flavorful and nimble. Give it a few decades and it'll be a killer. (1/01)

Torga Vintage Porto 1997 ($35) (August): Brick dust and red clay amidst a pool of smooth medium red berry fruit. Deep, rich and velvety, a wine of distinction that is rather monolithic now but has reserves of richness for the future. Slightly sweeter than the almost off-dry '95, I like this one very much, although it's too young to be drinking properly now. The cohesion is impressive, the balance striking, a very nice young port that doesn't hit basso profundo brambly notes or tenor high Cs but is impressive nonetheless, a middle range wine with great gifts. (8/7/01)

Companhia Velha Colheita 1947 (Greg Gets Us Wasted): Amber-brown, the color of maple syrup. Smells like nuts and acorns, then more nuts with a lightly shrill tang of VA. Tastes chestnutty with burnt caramel notes, a medium to light-bodied brown wine with hints of old wood, molasses and a zippy streak of lemon zest. Crisp and medium sweet, friendly little burn on the finish, rather fun. (3/02)

Quinta do Vesuvio Porto 2003 (barrel sample) (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner): Purply-black color, like squid ink. My god, speaking of 'more is better,' this is like purple shiraz-cocoa reduction sauce, dark and sweet and chewy-thick: what we have here, kiddies, is your quintessential Port Taffy. (5/05)

Warre's Porto Special Reserve 'Warrior' NV ($12) (Boatloads XI): Ripe and industrial, it has the feel of Frankenberry cereal, but there's some pleasant richness and a lot of flavor. Purists and terroiristas avert your eyes, this is candy for the masses. Nice, rich, sweet, hard to dislike. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/07)

Warre's Vintage Porto 1983($40) (Farid Fete): Beguilingly dark cassis-berry nose, brick-dusty and streaked with cocoa and red clay (Play-Doh) hints. A medium weight wine with a robustly red-earthy thrust of fruit up front and a smooth dark follow-through, finishing with more cocoa and red clay. Lightly developed, with a slight feathering at the edges, it's a young and vital wine with a deep red cassis heart. Very tasty indeed. (7/28/01)

Warre's Vintage Porto 1994 (Baseball Jeebus): Deep dark purply-garnet. Cocoa, plumskin, earth, cloves--a big, rowdy Maldenesque nose. A sip, and it's quite sweet, with a tight core of young plum-earth-spice fruit. Weighty in the mouth, rough rich fruit and plenty of sugar. Really quite tasty but much too young and hard to judge now. (10/24/00)

Wyndham Estate Old Tawny Port South Eastern Australia NV ($13) (Boatloads I): Medium caramel-amber color. Smells rich and sweet, caramel, toffee, bit of VA, flecks of orange rind. Medium-plus sweet, but fairly light-bodied and bright, similar in flavor but not as heavy as a liquor muscat. Bit of heat on the finish. [Buy again? Yes.] (8/04)

Banyuls and Other Sweet Reds, plus Sherry & Madeira

Oscar Acciaioly Sercial Dry Fine Madeira Apertif Wine 1922 (Chateauneuf-du-Joe): . Amber-orange color, with (as Joe points out) a touch of green at the rim. Smells of marzipan, caramel, toffee & vanilla bean, toasted marshmallow. Tastes sour and aggressively acidic, quite vivid, even has a bit of a finish. Pretty decent, for Madeira. (11/06)

Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 ($19) (Never Do What We Have Done): A whiff of date at first, then fruitcakey maple-toffee hints, spicy fig and walnut. Syrupy-sweet but with a firm acidic core. Pleasantly complex and developed yet quite vibrant, a strikingly positive note to end a troubling evening. (8/05)

Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 ($19) (The New Year, With Bordeaux): Yes, it's the winner by default of the catastrophic Under-$20 Spanish Jeebusito, and it's still a lot of fun: fig and date and fruitcake, rich and sweetly nutty-tasting, with plenty of spine despite the big sugar. More layered complexity than your average PX, this feathers out on my tongue in successive waves of brownness, pushing the same buttons that a good pancake breakfast does. Good stuff. (12/31/05)

Mas Amiel Maury 2001 (Misplaced Weekend II): Quiet raspberry aromatics, light tarry streak underneath. Medium-lightweight, two-dimensional and sweet. Decent enough but not a whole lot going on. Still, I empty my glass and part of Connell's as well. Frankly, I'm a sucker for even simple Maury. (5/9/04)

Mas Amiel Maury Millésime 1980 ($40) (15 Fox Place): Delightfully feathery-leathery to smell, dark muted berry, caramel and brown sugar hints. Tastes medium-sweet, layered and complex, with dark baker's-chocolate undertones that match wonderfully with the chocolate cake. Slightly more decayed and less berried than I'd expect of a comparably-aged Banyuls, more tawny-leather hints. Jay, grenache loather extraordinaire, approves: "If a grenache is sweet and more than twenty years old, it might have potential," he grudgingly concedes. It really does go wonderfully with the chocolate (I'd rolled the dice that one of the fourteen courses would involve chocolate). (3/22/04)

Barbeito Malvasia Madeira 1900 (Joao/Kansas): Muddy medium-brown, matte brownish. It certainly smells beguiling. I've never been a fan of Madeira, but this has a great sour nutty-brown ginger-shoyu nose, complex and strange. A taste, and I'm a little surprised by the level of sweetness, which is fine by me. There's a sweet-sour thing going on--the wine is feathery-brown and more curious than pleasurable, a bit sharp. Joe says it reminds him of army men under the magnifying glass. The conventional wisdom seems to think it won't open up for three to five days. Andrew thinks it needs another hundred years to work out the kinks and opines that the truly great wines only show best when you're dead. Connell agrees. Jayson head-butts the strudel. (3/2/00)

Barbeito Reserva Velha Madeira Malvasia 1834 (Beaucoin Revisited): I'm not normally a Madeira fan, but if you're pouring a one-hundred-seventy year old wine, I'll sit up and pay attention. It's a deep walnutty-chocolate color, tinged with orange at the rim. Smells extraordinary, a potpourri of pickled figs*, orange rind, toasted marshmallow, vanilla and molasses, enlivened and couched in a shrill acidic sourness. A sip, and it's a intensely harmonious cacophony of sweetness, sourness, hardness and intense flavor, a truly compelling blend that's not found outside of really good old Madeira. Shrill and hard, sweet and layered, a burst of sweet-sour nutty, pomander-spice notes, a flash of spiritousness, more dark figgy-molasses flavors laced with spicy orange-apricot, then an explosive finish that bursts with all of the above, then slides slowly away, leaving the inside of my mouth agitated, humming like a tuning fork. My god, that's a wild ride. Intense, a bit of a pain/pleasure experience that leaves me feeling rumpled, with a welling up of post-coital melancholy when it's done. (3/7/04)

Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito 1997 (Shanks): Light leatherberry aromatics, hints of earth and black olive. A sip, and it tastes smooth and a bit simpler than it smells: light sweetness, matte cherry fruit, dark licorice streak wells up in the middle and lingers on the finish. There's a pleasant feathery quality to this wine, lightly caressive as it slides down my gullet. My initial impression of insubstantiality gives way to a rather tickled sense of warm earthiness. Pretty nice little wine, subtle and sneaky-smooth. (4/24/04)

Bodegas Antonio Candela e Hijos El Remate Dulce 'Bellum' 2003 ($25/.500 ml) (Lou Turns the Worm): Smells of baking chocolate, dark leatherberry and cardamon-cumin spiciness. Medium-plus sweet and well balanced acidity for an '03, relatively restrained. Dark and viscous for all its lightness, finishes very bittersweetly chocolatey. Interesting wine, a bit in the mold of a Banyuls, with a gritty-matte mouthfeel, a pleasant roughness. (10/05)

Domaine de la Casa Blanca Banyuls 2003 ($15). Freshly-crushed raspberry juice with a light cocoaish undernote. It's rather loose and vague, but has some dark grenachey character and plenty of sugar. Not terribly complex, but juicy and sweetly friendly, a plump little Banyuls that'll do nicely as an everyday sweetie. [Buy again? Absolutely, several.]

Castaño Monastrell Dulce 1998 (VS Eats at Joe's): A soft muddy-sweet monastrell, low acid and fleshy, the brick-red raspberry fruit falls over the tongue like soft ash. A bit syrupy, a bit of a curiosity. Lisa likes it more than I do, finding some kinship here with her favorite Tintilla de Rota. Actually, it does kind of grow on you. (11/7/99)

Chapel Hill Red Dessert Wine of Australia '1865' NV ($24) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Medium ruby-amber color, hinting towards orange at the rim. Effusively spicy-smelling, orange rind/pomander spice, clove, marshmallow, vanilla, burnt sugar, maple syrup, smells like an old world candyshop. Tastes sweet and tawny-woody, orange rind and more maple, nice balance of sugar & acidity, turns slightly wood tannic on the finish. It's broad, it's kind of coarse, but it's flavorful and fun to drink. Good unsubtle tawny-style portlike thingie. (3/06)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Russian River Valley Late Harvest 1997 ($20/.375) (Bradcave): Boy, this smells nice, smooth and richly zinny. I haven't had great experiences with many LH zins, but one taste tells me this is something special. Richly fruity and very nicely balanced, very expressive of zin. Just a delightful wine for a zinhead like me--sweet and rich and crisp, it goes down smoothly and quickly, and between three of us the half-bottle is empty in about forty seconds, even though we've been tasting all night. A fun wine, but seriously well made. (9/99)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Russian River Valley Late Harvest 1997 ($20/.375) (Winterfest 2003): Touch of volatility here underneath the rich black cherry-raspberry aromas. Tastes sweeter than I remember, with a brown-sugary streak emerging in the middle and striking out on its own. Still sweetly zinny, but seems to be showing the first signs of coming unglued. (2/03)

Franz Haas Moscato Rosa Alto Adige 1999 (September 15, 2001): Quite delicious, cherry-berry fruit and rose petal nose, fine concentration and sustain through a humming juicy finish, matte mouthfeel, just a surprisingly grippy sweet red to wrap your mouth around. Very nice. (9/15/01)

Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc 'Port' California 1995 ($9) (Boatloads II): Muddy medium garnet, browning at the rim. Strangely muted berry-tobacco nose. Medium-plus sweet, bricky berry and cigar, decent acidity. Pleasant at first, then becomes annoyingly tobaccoey, finishing abbreviated and cigar-stubby, falling off a cliff at the end. Unpleasant finish, bitter and sour, betrays a more promising beginning. Too old? Just bad? [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Justin 'Obtuse' Paso Robles 1997 ($10/375): (A 100% cabernet port-style wine). Big, velvety-fruity nose, more like a LH zin than any cabernet. Big black cherry. BIG black cherry. If Turley made a 'port'... warm, creamy berries, desserty-sweet but with just enough acidity for me, clear hit of alcoholic heat both on the nose and in the palate, but I have a weakness for this kind of thing and the zinny-Robitussiny fruit is so forward that I don't mind much. It's a freak, but what the hey, I've always liked Freaks. (1/15/00)

Emilio Lustau Tintilla de Rota (NV) ($28): Reddish, muddy brown; incredible nose of barbeque sauce/vanilla/leather/raisins, my goodness. In the mouth a little simpler, kind of monolithic, but dense and chock full of smooth, sweeth, earthy, raisiny, smoky/barbeque flavors. Very unusual. (4/19/99)

Emilio Lustau Tintilla de Rota (NV) ($28)(Cape Mayhem): Major brownness in my nostrils, raisins and cinnamon, brown sugar and coffee. Andrew pipes up "Coffee with cheese in it. But in a good way." Nina, having a vision, says "Horse feeds... cleaning the horses... the grain bin!" and indeed she's pegged it, as there is an oaty-graininess underlying the brown aromatics. Quite sweet, muddy-brown in texture and very dense and earthy, a little goes a long way, but it's deliciously layered and Denyse happily downs several glasses, the sweet sweet wine taking away the pain. (5/25/01)

Domaine du Mas Blanc (Parcé) Banyuls 1976 (Walt Begs for Mercy): An initial whiff of sherried brown sugar sets off some alarm bells, but the wine rallies, filling my nostrils with dark bricky-berry fruit laced with figs and cocoa. Nimble of body, the weathered fruit spreads out comfortably on my tongue, settling loosely in soft earthy-sweet waves. A pretty, complex wine even when it's not showing its best. This is the one I settle down with. (5/01)

Domaine du Mas Blanc (Parcé) Banyuls Cuvée de la Saint Martin 1979 (Trilateral Offline): Medium-dark ruby, hinting at amber at the rim; cocoa and soft dark raspberry hit you on the nose, couched in dark earthy truffliness. Medium-sweet, very smooth and well balanced, a lighter wine than the previous two, but one with a good deal of strength and richness in its own right. Dark cocoa-berry flavors swirl through the midpalate and linger in a medium-length finish. Very nice. (3/14/00)

Domaine du Mas Blanc (Parcé) Banyuls 1985 ($35)(Muscajeeb): Smells of red clay and dust, earth and cocoaberry. Medium sweet, crisp and densely packed with dark red flavors. Still young and on the monolithic side; needs time, but is getting there. Heavenly with the chocolate mouse cake, which looks suspiciously like chocolate mousse cake. (11/10/02)

Domaine du Mas Blanc (Parcé) Banyuls 1985 ($35)(Oddball Grapes): Dark raspberry, tree bark and cocoa powder. Sweet, rich and layered. Needs time, but the beginnings of complexity are there amidst the rich dark grenache. (7/27/03)

Offley Vintage Character Port NV ($10) (Boatloads III): Simple candy-redfruit smells. Tastes sweet, simple and a bit hot on the finish. It's port, I guess, but only just. [Buy again? No.] (2/05)

Salvador Poveda Gran Reserva de Fondillón 1975 (VS Eats at Joe's): Amber color; wooha, just a real lush raisin/vanilla/caramel milkshake of a nose. I taste it, and though it's sweet, it's surprisingly tart and caramelly--some bright acidity keeps it from turning at all goopy. Vanilla and caramel flavors wash over the midpalate, then the vanilla recedes, leaving the dark caramel lingering on the finish. Delish. (11/7/99)

Renwood Zinfandel Amador County 'Amador Ice' 1996 ($20/.375): Pale strawberry-red color, strangely light, sort of a rosé-ish hue; very light nose, apple-juicy notes; in the mouth, oh man, if I wasn't clear on the meaning of 'blop' here's a living illustration. Blop city--a cloyingly sweet invertebrate wine, with no zin character in evidence. Like a glassful of dissolved apple & strawberry Jolly Ranchers. Odd and very disappointing to me, as I was up for something fun, rich and zinny.

Domaine des Schistes Maury 2000 (Foodies 3): Ripe and black-raspberryish, dark cocoa undercurrents, rather diffuse, but the sweet fleshiness has pleasant supporting acidity and the lack of concentration and complexity isn't offputting. A trifling wine, but a sweetly pleasant one, matching very well with Eden's tiny (pudding-filled?) chocolate cakes. (2/26/05)

Bodegas Toro Albalá Cordoba Pedro Ximénez 1972 ($20/.375 ml) (Chateau Joe): Black as tar, thick as motor oil, sweet as hell. Marshmallow-caramel on the nose, toast and cream follow in the mouth. Very dense, very sweet, very interesting PX. I never quite know what to make of this stuff, but I like it in small doses. (8/99)

Bodegas Toro Albalá Cordoba Pedro Ximénez 1975 (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): This tastes like these things always taste. See notes on the '71, '72, etc. For all intents and purposes they all taste alike. Oh sure, if we did a vertical of nothing but PX we'd find some individuality, but in any other context it's simply hugely sweet motor oil, with walnuts and toasted marshmallow to add flavor, plus a pleasant whiff of volatility. I enjoy smelling it, but after drinking a tablespoon or two it quickly becomes exhausting. (7/06)

Domaine du Traginer Banyuls 1995 (Motor Oil): Medium-light amber-brown color, quite light. Smells layered and complex and surprisingly developed--toffee, rust, caramel, leather, lots going on here, light feathery aromas. Tastes developed and feathery-earthy as well, more toffee flavors, a light to medium-light bodied wine with medium-light sweetness blended perfectly with firm but not assertive acidity. You sip, and the wine settles slowly and easily on your tongue in layers of flavor. Very, very nice, a thoughtful, easy wine that begs to be savored slowly and delicately. (6/29/00)

Domaine du Traginer Banyuls 1995 (The Longest Night): Fairly light amber-brown color. Smells layered and complex and older than its years would indicate--toffee, leather, rust, sweetly earthy and brown, light but interesting. A light bodied wine with medium-light sweetness and sufficient but not aggressive acidity. Mellow, earthy and feathered. (12/31/00)

Domaine du Traginer Banyuls Rimage Mise Tardive 1995 (The Longest Night): Medium ruby with garnet highlights. Black cherry and cocoa powder on the nose, medium sweet to taste, raspberry and cocoa. Soft, light, earthy, expressive. (12/31/00)

Domaine du Traginer Hors d'Age Vin Doux Naturel NV(The Longest Night): Medium-light ruby color. Bit sweeter, a bit more oxidized and sherrylike--nutty berry fruit, hints of caramel. Not as tarry-dark as the RMT, a bit sweeter and simpler-smelling, more aromatic but not as earthy and deep. Tawny hints over medium muted berry fruit. Not bad at all, but I prefer the others. (12/31/00)

Domaine du Traginer Vin Doux Naturel Vieux Banyuls Sec NV (Asylum): Despite the 'sec,' this isn't terribly dry. It's a medium-light wine, pale ruby ambering slightly at the rim, smelling rich and earthyberryish. Tastes lightly sweet and light, a wine with feathery brick-dust red fruit that spreads slowly and pleasantly over the tonguetop until you squeal for more. And squeal I do, sipping down as much of this as I can before the bottle is justly emptied. Delicious, easy sipping wine. (9/8/00)

Trentadue Angelica 1973 ($17/.375) (Jason Takes Manhattan): Muddy brown, bit of rancio on the nose, very sweet tasting, slightly goopy feel in the mouth, earthy-brown sugar, raisin and shoyu flavors; thick, sweet and feathery-earthy, an interesting and odd old wine. Pronounced gingery-molasses notes emerge on the finish. Very curious. (5/00)

Venturini La Brugnine Recioto del Valpolicella Classico 1995 (Swedes Invade): Medium purply-garnet. Choco-raspberry on the nose. Quite sweet, although lighter in body than the Horse Heaven, a bit soft and fleshy, with some pleasant meaty choco-berry fruit. Kane compares it to the Dashe LH zin, but it lacks the exuberance and complexity of that fine sweetie. Still, I find myself going back for more. Nice. (3/24/00)

Zeni Moscato Rosa Trentino 1997 (Adlers): Smells sweetly Robitussiny, glossy red fruit with cocoa and raisiny notes underneath. Simply red, medium sweet. There is a cough-syrup quality here but there's good balance and enough dark fruit and cocoa to pass muster. (9/2/02)

Compleat Winegeek | TN Archive | Essays | Glossary