By Tim Wright
As I alluded to in part one of this blog, my philosophy of wine tasting and wine discovery (wine appreciation, to coin a term) was heavily influenced by my being in the right place at the right time (working the crush in 1993), surrounded by the right people to expand my wine horizons (the Madroña family, including the Bushes, winemaker Hugh Chappelle, and my roommate at the time – another Bush by the name of Paul).
Opportunity was one aspect of my introduction to wine appreciation; circumstances were favorable for me. Most people do not have those circumstances. Even so, I had to overcome my own biases and preconceptions, of which I had many. But I’ve come to realize that among wines (at least in America), Port may be the most fraught with these biases. “Just a sweet wine,” “so simple,” “too alcoholic,” “I don’t like dessert wines,” are all phrases that I have heard from people in the tasting room over the years, often summed up in the form of their furrowed-brow, scornful expression as they uttered the words, “Port? No thanks.”
This, in short, is what Port Month, and Portopia, are all about. Blowing up those misconceptions and biases, thoroughly, one by one.
Every February, it’s our mission to enlighten our customers to the virtues of, and dispel the myths about, Port. We highlight the balance and complexity of well-made Port. We let it showcase the diversity of fruit and spice characters that comprise the seven Portuguese grapes, so different from one another but with a blending harmony that even the Bordeaux varieties envy. We bring out the older vintages, to showcase Port’s almost unparalleled age-ability. We tackle the misconception that Port pairing is only about chocolate, head-on, with a chocolate vs blue cheese pairing showdown using modern, state-of-the-art crowd-sourcing technology (we have Mary Dedrick, our cheesemonger, tallying votes on a dry-erase board).
The culmination of Port month is Portopia, a walk-around, take-your-time, Port-and-unexpected-pairing event. Port as the aperitif. Port as primary ingredient. Port paired with the salad course. Port paired with the main entree. Port with the dessert course. Port AS the dessert. Port, where you would have immediately thought of another wine instead; where you never would have thought of Port.
Ever paired Port with a salad? Specifically, for this year’s Portopia, a beet salad with arugula and goat cheese, tossed with a little of the Port you’re going to pair with it? How about pizza and Port? (Spinach, arugula and walnut pesto pizza, with olive oil and garlic, this year, to be exact). Have you ever experienced the intensity and complexity of a Port reduction sauce with a kabob of beef or chicken with onions and peppers, or a nice cut of red meat, or (at this year’s Portopia) sautéed mushrooms with garlic? How about Port with that most eminent of comfort foods, mac & cheese? If you come to Portopia this year, you’ll be able to try what I have deemed “serious mac”; fusilli pasta, Fontina and Swiss, finished with crumbled blue. Savory, dense, rich in flavor and texture, and amazing with our new release, the 2010 New-World Port. Who would have thought?
Longtime Madroña customers know how we feel about Port and blue cheese – if given a choice, we’d almost always choose to pair a blue over chocolate. In the past, we have upped that equation by taking a page from the Brits; soak your blue in Port for a few days prior to your soiree, and then pair. This year, we found a blue that matched our 2002 New-World Port so well – the artisan, organic, cow’s milk Big Rock Blue – that we decided on the standard pairing. And just to show that we get the whole chocolate/Port decadence thing, we found an amazing Dark Chocolate Silk to go with our 2006 vintage New-World Port.
Lastly, if you don’t grok Tawny, Portopia will be your chance for enlightenment. Last chance for a barrel sample – Paul will be announcing the bottling date soon.
So, please, come check out Port month at Madroña. We update our Facebook page daily with Port Month details, dates and vintages to be poured. And consider attending Portopia, and thus possibly getting your mind opened to the possibilities of Port…if not blown.