Have you finished your cold weather checklist?

Cold weather, check. Blazing crackling fire, check. Port, check check.

Cold weather, check. Blazing crackling fire, check. Port, check check.

Ahh… the first truly cold night of the fall is slated to occur midweek. And there’s not much of a better matchup for the chill in the air than a warm fire and a bottle of good Port.

A visit last week from Mizz Jackson and her Man, presented us with the impetus to stoke the old outdoor fire pit and uncork a bottle of Warre’s Otima 10 year Tawny Port. The light honey notes of the Otima were rounded out with a simple butterscotch finish, making the Port a great post-game wrap up. Which is exactly what you’ll need to do this week- wrap up, because it’s getting cold quick. And a little Port wouldn’t hurt either.

COLD WEATHER CHECKLIST:

____ Baby it’s cold outside!

____ The fire pit is lit

____ Coat, blanket and a baldman’s lid

____ Port Wine prescription

Dessert in a Bottle

* A version of the following article originally appeared in the Sunday edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

When it comes to the pride of Portuguese red wine, nothing stands as prominent and posh as the tawny or amber colored elixir of a delectably sweet port. Customarily made from native grapes such as Touriga Nacional, port hails from the historical vineyards of northern Portugal. Here, many producers often have a British background, linked to days of old, when port was a preferred libation of the island nation.

The old world practice that separates the production of wines like Port, Madeira and Marsala (from most other wines) involves the addition of neutral grape spirits to the fermenting grape juice. Essentially, this method has a dual effect. First it stops the fermentation, allowing some of the sweetness to stay in the wine, as not all the sugar is turned into alcohol. And secondly, the addition of the grape spirits increases the alcohol content of the wine, thus fortifying it.

The fortification makes for a longer lasting, well-preserved wine that travels better in old world Europe, or more specifically for those trips to the Isles just north of the Iberian Peninsula and numerous other outposts of the once British Empire.

Ports

Across the world, the names of key port producers have become universally renowned and include the likes of Fonseca, Dows, Taylor, Croft and Grahams. These vintners have been making port for centuries and they’re still getting it right today. From the young cherry notes and light-hearted appeal of Dow’s Crusted Port to the aperitif like quality of its White Port, Dow’s is a prime example of how the best port houses make successful fortified wines that range from the aforementioned entry-level ports to a pricier and more rare vintage port.

Over the years Fonseca has become a personal favorite of the big port houses. Its Ten Year Tawny Port is dessert in a bottle. With a cornucopia of flavors like butterscotch, plum and toffee, the Fonseca Ten Year is a hard-to-beat introduction to what the wonderful world of port is all about.

Additionally, there are less recognized port houses that deserve some props. The William Harrison import of Quinta de la Rosa also makes a fantastically focused Ten Year Tawny Port. Since most ports come in a traditional darker glass bottling, it’s refreshing to see the clean, clear glass of the Quinta de la Rosa displaying the wonderful and rustic burgundy-like hues of the port wine. A sturdy 20% alcohol by volume, the Quinta de la Rosa has a wonderful honeyed aroma whose magnetism is only surpassed by its decadent and indulgent essence of raisons and dates.

During the wintertime, the sweet and warming charm of a good port may make for a cozy fireside companion, but throughout the year port is the quintessential embellishment after a magnificent meal.

Cheap Port & Cheese Cake

I have your next cheesecake companion: a slightly chilled, nutty and inexpensive Tawny Port.

A typical blend of half a dozen or more Portuguese grapes, the Porto Cruz Tawny is a lighter style, dessert friendly Port with aromas of fruitcake and caramel. There’s not too many competitors lining the shelf in that magical $10-$15 price range, so feel safe in giving it a whirl this holiday or into the winter season.

Remember that Port is also great with a woodblock of assorted cheeses, nuts, figs and dates. Cheers!

Storm weather update!

Day Two:

The Fonseca 20 year Tawny Port has become the surprise hit of October. Day two showed an evolution of the port with butterscotch and toffee flavors dominating the eastern seaboard of my glass. With this much gale force and strength of character there probably won’t be a third night. Batten down the cork top!

Frankenport from Fonseca

This late October day finally feels like Autumn; cooler temps, cold rain drizzling down, leaves raining to the earth floor and of course the Frankenstorm – led by a woman named Sandy. If only this year’s “S” hurricane had been Shelley, then we would know for sure that the literary stars were inauspiciously aligning, too.

The one thing that a cool fall climate and a doomsday scenario have in common is their remedy; namely a good glass of warm, sweet port. My muse had been waiting for quite some time for me to open a tucked-away bottle of Fonseca’s 20 year Tawny Port. A fourth reason to do so would not be necessary.

With a blend of several grapes including Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, the Fonseca 20 year hits the catwalk with a kaleidoscope of orange tinted amber and an autumn appropriate reddish-brown, reminiscent of fading leaves from an old red maple. Its sweet warmth balances the mood with caramel apple and plum pudding notes. “Here then I retreated, and lay down happy to have found a shelter…from the inclemency of the season.” - Frankenstein’s beast