Wine: Enjoying a festive port

Recently I gave over my column to the joys of sherry and wrote about how well it goes with food. This week it is the turn of port. Port and sherry are drinks we wrongly associate with Christmas when in fact they work all year round.

Wine: Enjoying a festive port

In September I visited the city of Porto and the spectacular Douro Valley which has to be a contender for most beautiful wine region in the world. It’s now a Unesco World Heritage site. I had two reasons to visit; an invite from arguably the best producer in the region Taylors (which also owns Croft and Fonseca), and to participate in the Port Wine Day celebrations. Port Wine Day included a magical tasting of around 40 wines from each year of the 1970s including many rarities.

Old port, whether tawny (aged in oak) or vintage (bottle-aged) develops levels of flavour and complexity to match any wine in the world yet costs a tenth of the price of fine Bordeaux. The aged Colheita tawnies, including some fascinating white ports, outshone many of the vintage styles.

One house that has fully embraced tawny port is Taylors and its 10- and 20-year-old wines are benchmarks. Quinta de Vargellas is the family estate in the Upper Douro and was in the middle of the vintage.

Vargellas ages just like regular vintage port but can be drunk much younger.

At l’Atitude 51 two weeks ago at a charity event for Pieta House I poured the 2012 to accompany some braised beef cooked by my colleague in The Menu and most agreed it worked well.

For The Diary:

December 11, 6.30pm: Wine Tasting in aid of NASC Immigrant Support Centre in association with Bubble Brothers. Venue: Nasc Offices, Ferry Lane, Dominick St, Cork. Admission €20


Masi Campofiorin, Veneto, Italy - €12.99-16.99

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls Ballinlough, Bradleys, widely available

On special offer in JJ O’Driscolls at €12.99 for today only. Made from the classic Veneto blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella this was the first Ripasso wine, a style invented by Masi where dried grapes are re-fermented with wine from fresh grapes to give a slight raisin character layered over the ripe fleshy cherries.

Graham Norton ‘GN’ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand - €12 (RRP €15) 

Stockists: Centra, SuperValu

Ever wondered what wine Graham Norton serves his guests on his chat show? Norton actually played a part in the blending process of this wine and in his own words (which I agree with) - this has “tropical fruits with plenty of zing!”.

All profits from the wine are donated to the Dogs Trust charity who operate here and in the UK.

El Pájaro Rojo, Bierzo, Spain - €14.99

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, O’Donovans, Jus de Vine

Mencía is a lesser known grape only found in North West Spain, especially in Bierzo on the border with Galicia. Mencia can take some oak ageing but I generally prefer it when the winemaker has concentrated on the fruit.

This has a lovely cherry and plum fruit-driven density and complexity and even a hint of chocolate on the middle palate.


Croft Pink Port, Portugal — €18.99

Stockists: O’Briens, World Wide Wines, Hollands Bray, Selected Multiples

Croft is owned by Taylors and between them, they invented this style of port. This is very tasty and delicious to drink as an aperitif or with some paté as a first course. Bright ruby colour, red fruit aromas, red and blackberry fruits, clean and fresh. Serve chilled, on ice, with tonic and a sprig of mint or even mix with Prosecco!

Fonseca Quinta do Panascal 2001, Single Quinta Vintage Port, Portugal — €38.99

Stockist: SuperValu, Corkscrew, Mchughs

This is a bargain price for such a fine drink. Packed with cherry fruit, lingering silky supple flavours with a touch of lingering minerality mixed with dried cherries and a touch of sweet plum. You will also find some younger and older vintages around in better off-licences and all are worth trying.

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 1996, Portugal — €56.95

Stockists: O’Briens, McHughs, Corkscrew, selected independents

Made from Fonseca’s three best Quintas this also has a cherry character (mixed with red-currants and a touch of blueberries) but also extra freshness and acidity making it an excellent food wine. Given the price of fully declared vintage port this is a bargain from such a venerable old house.

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