By Richy Petrina of Ithaca Wine Ventures
Traditionally made as a fortified red dessert wine in Portugal, Port has a long and storied history—and certainly not one closely associated with the Finger Lakes. It is made in various styles, including multi-vintage brightly fruit-driven ‘Ruby Port’ and barrel-aged ‘Tawny Port’ which is more amber in color and drier and nuttier in flavor. Vintage Port, often dating back many decades and produced from a specific harvest, is the rarest.
Originally, wines were fortified with higher-alcohol brandy so that they could survive long ocean travel. Thankfully, even our widest Finger Lakes are less than a few miles wide and can be easily traversed by kayak. But it’s good to know these wines aren’t fragile.
Today, this tradition of fortified dessert wines continues throughout the world, even here in our region. Peter Bell, before becoming head winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards in 1995, actually made Port in Australia … where these wines are famously called stickies.
He continues crafting this passion project today in two styles: The Ruby, made from 100% estate-grown Merlot, is price-wise more approachable and a delicious accompaniment to dessert or fine cheeses. His team also released a more limited Fine Old Tawny, which is made from Cabernet Franc and aged for seven years in barrel. Combined, less than a few hundred cases are produced a year.
I seldom drink dessert wines, which is why perhaps recently opening a half-bottle felt so fun and even a bit exotic. We love chocolate, and we love cheeses, and yet I don’t know why we rarely think of enjoying a fun dessert wine alongside either one. 2021 is a year of change, after all, and I’m glad to be adding this to the repertoire.
The Ruby Port from Fox Run will definitely become a fun addition to our foodie adventures. It has a lovely ruby red color with pale edges, and the aromas burst out from the glass like red and black berry fireworks on the lakefront. When tasting, it takes me back to really good homemade fruit rollups, jammy cooked cherries, and sun-dried raisins by the handful.
The wine is admittedly lip-smackingly sweet, but I really enjoy the spice that immediately follows. The winery uses the phrase velvet and fire in describing this wine, and I think that’s pretty spot on.
Pragmatically speaking, a half bottle of Port is a good investment. It can last a while, both because you only need to serve a small portion to enjoy it, and also because it does last in the fridge for a few weeks. So I encourage you to add this to your lineup, especially in these colder months, and to give it a try with some assorted chocolates.
Richy Petrina founded Ithaca Wine Ventures in June of 2019 to elevate and amplify the region and its exceptional producers. The startup’s latest project, WINEcsa.org, is a wine club from the Finger Lakes featuring a different winery each month, with local drop-offs and nationwide shipping.