This year, why not make a resolution that you can drink? Recite after me: “I hereby resolve to get out of my cabernet/chardonnay rut and expand my palate into wines I’ve rarely if ever tasted before.” Here are three wine styles to consider:
Port is a sweet dessert wine, fortified with brandy up to 17 to 20 percent alcohol. It has flavors from sweet black cherries to toasted nuts to dried fruit to spice. It’s a great aperitif or after-dinner with apple tarts, pumpkin pie, cheeses from hard Cheddar to funky blue, even foie gras and chocolate brownies. It comes in several styles, from inexpensive ruby port, which is drunk young and has sweet, intense fruit flavors to august, expensive vintage port, aged 10 to 50 years or longer, and whose flavors include marzipan, tea, spice, smoke and dried fruit.
Port is made from traditional Portuguese grapes with names such as touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca, tinta roriz and tinta cao. At first, it’s fermented like most wines by treating it with yeast, which turns its natural grape sugars into alcohol. But halfway through the fermentation it is dosed with high-alcohol grape brandy, which kills the yeast and produces a very sweet wine with 17 to 20 percent alcohol.
Then it might be bottled and sold young as exuberant ruby port, or aged in oak casks to make mellow tawny port, or aged for many years in bottles to make vintage port.
CHIANTI CLASSICO WINE
Chianti wines, once the simple quaff in the straw-covered flasks, have matured into concentrated, opulent drinks that are America’s favorite Italian wines — selling from $10 to $50 or more. They come from the rolling hills and castles of the Chianti region in Tuscany, not far from Florence. The wines are divided into Chianti, Chianti Classico Riserva and other categories, the Riservas coming from the region’s better vineyards. Chiantis are dry and fairly tannic, with flavors of sweet black cherries, tobacco, sometimes even balsamic vinegar and smoke. They’re excellent with roasted red meat, wild game, aged cheeses, dishes with rich sauces, pizza, pasta with red sauces, almost anything Italian.
Passito wines are sweet, concentrated, opulent dessert wines, both red and white, made from grapes that are picked, laid out on straw mats in the hot sun or in airy rooms for weeks to desiccate almost into raisins, thus concentrating the grapes’ sugars and acids. They go well with fruit tarts, nuts, spicy foods, soft cheeses.
Legend says Giacomo Casanova offered glasses of passito wine to women he meant to seduce.