From the Aztecs to Europe’s royal courts, chocolate has been linked to fertility, privilege and luxury, making it a natural Valentine’s Day present. Add a glass of port wine and you’ll treat yourself and your partner royally, too.
Port wine is made in Portugal’s Douro Valley. There are many other fortified wines from around the world labeled port, but they are no more port wine than a sparkling wine from California is Champagne. Port and Champagne can only come from its specific geographical location and made from specified grapes and methods in accordance with each wine’s regulations.
Tawny and ruby ports start from the same mix of Portuguese grapes, but the winemaking is significantly different for each.
In its simplest form, after fermentation, tawny ports are aged in barrels in which the gradual exposure to air causes the wine to evolve from its reddish color to a honey-brownish, or tawny, hue. Tawny ports can be aged for as little as a few years, or in regulated increments of 10 years: 10, 20, 30, and more than 40 years old. As the wine ages, it becomes dried and paler. For most wine consumers, 10- and 20-year old tawnies are preferred because each retains its fruit aromas and flavors.
Chocolate candies and tawny port are pure pleasure. Dark or milk chocolate, whether studded with hazelnuts or almonds, or filled with fruit-flavored ganache, are perfect with 10- and 20-year old tawny ports. Some like the fruitiness of 10-year old tawny; I prefer the toned-down, but not muted, fruit quality of 20-year old tawny.
After living in Brussels, I believe the most refined chocolates are made in Belgium. Take a small bite of a dark Belgian chocolate covering a gently-toasted hazelnut, or filled with coffee cream, then sip the tawny port: You’re sheathed in pure decadence.
Ruby ports also reflect their color. Unlike tawny ports, rubies develop in the bottle. After fermentation, these wines spend only a few months to a few years in barrels.
A basic ruby Port is bursting with red fruit flavors. Rubies come in multiple categories, from vintage character port to late bottled vintage to vintage to single quinta vintage and so many more- it would take two or three articles to cover all ruby ports. But they all share one characteristic: intensely red fruit scented and flavored.
Savor whichever ruby port you choose with a bittersweet chocolate morsel containing a candied orange peel, or one filled with caramel. The lush red fruit flavors of ruby port also meld with luxurious chocolate cake. Your mouth will be robed in richness.
Taylor Fladgate, Sandeman, Fonseca and Graham’s are excellent port producers. Their wines are richly flavored, exquisitely balanced and have a finish as long as a lover’s gaze. Happy Valentine’s Day!