Enjoying a glass of port is synonymous with winter. Oohs and aahs follow those first luscious sips of the season—sips that deliciously pair with nuts, Stilton cheese, a dessert course, or just by itself. Each variety of port has a different personality: some are bold and muscular, others mature and focused. But they are always sweet—and they always make a great gift.
Port is a wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal (authentic Portuguese port is labeled “Porto”) that has been fortified with brandy. The history of port dates back to the 17th century, when English wine merchants came to Portugal to look for new wines and encountered hearty reds infused with brandy as they fermented. Fortifying wines also kept them stable during shipping.
Port is either bottle-aged or barrel-aged, and with a few notable exceptions, it’s usually red in color. The best bottles are made with half a dozen highly regarded grapes blended together to give the wine an intense color, body, taste, and aroma. With the holidays upon us, here’s a guide to different port varieties along with a few selections available at local package stores.
Vintage is the top port as well as the most expensive. It’s made from a blend of the best grapes culled from top vineyards three or four times a decade—the years that port shippers declare to be vintage years. Vintage ports should age quite a long time before being served, and it’s best to buy a bottle that is at least 10 years old if you want to drink it right away. These are rich and dense with lots of tannins. They are also unfiltered, so expect sediment on the bottom.
Single Quinta port has a key difference from vintage ports: they are produced from grapes from one vineyard (quinta means “farm”) in a single, non-vintage year. The label displays the vineyard’s name. But single-quinta ports are crafted much like vintage ports, offering powerful berry fruit tastes that need significant bottle age to come together. They are a less expensive alternative to a port from a vintage year.
Also known as LBV, Late Bottle Vintage is a variety from a single vintage that’s aged in the barrel four to six years before being bottled. While they are not made in vintage years, they are robust, ideal for drinking right away, and usually half the price of vintage ports.
Standard Rubies are the most basic ports: young, sweet, simple, and inexpensive. These have tasty raspberry and cherry fruit flavors. You’ll find labels that say “Finest,” “Reserve,” or “Vintage Character.”
While the labels on Aged Tawny ports might say 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old, the bottles themselves haven’t actually aged that long. Rather, they are made with a blend of ports barrel-aged for different lengths of time. The age is an approximation of the taste; for instance, a variety labeled 20 years old tastes like it should be that age to the port maker. The blending and wood aging gives a pale color and silky texture with nutty, butterscotch, and dried-fruit flavors.
Lastly, Colheita is a tawny port from a single vintage that usually has woody and vanilla flavors. Port makers don’t usually keep them in large quantities. Colheita ports are usually aged at least seven years, but you might find a few that are 10 to 50 years old.
Descending the wooden stairs into the subterranean wine cellar at Nantucket’s American Seasons feels like stepping into a cave. You’ll most likely hit your head on the door frame if you don’t duck. This space is a rustic contrast to the gloss of some other wine storage rooms. That’s because it doesn’t need polish: the racks are filled with close to 5,000 bottles, many from prestigious grape-growing regions in the U.S., several available in small quantities that rarely make their way onto local wine lists. Read more…
Sebastien Taffara’s education and infatuation with wine began at 15 years old, on the second floor of a brasserie in his native Normandy, France. Four years later, he moved to Paris, laboring as assistant to the wine director under famed French chef Joël Robuchon before heading up the wine program at Le Pergolèse. In Paris, he met Philippe Rispoli, a chef whom he would follow across the pond to Wellfleet. In 2009, the duo opened PB Boulangerie Bistro in Wellfleet. Taffara became the restaurant’s manager and wine steward—selecting the wines for the restaurant, stocking the 1,000-plus bottles in the wine cellar, organizing staff tastings, and arranging special winemaker dinners. Cape Cod Life spoke with the 26-year-old Taffara to uncover some of his personal favorite glasses, how to best pair wine and cheese, and the transition from a cosmopolitan city in France to the majesty of the Outer Cape.
CAPE COD LIFE: What are your observations about the level of wine interest and knowledge of the people who dine at PB?
TAFFARA: The people who come here are really educated about wine and they don’t hesitate to ask questions. Most want to drink French wines and 60 percent of our list is French. Many want to try a wine from Burgundy—rosé is also very popular since it’s a wine for summer. People are very curious and like to discover new wines. One night we opened a six-liter bottle of Gevery-Chambertin and sold it by the glass for $18. It was sold out in two hours. This was a real treat to have an opportunity to buy such a good wine by the glass. We do this in France. People here are very open-minded. They really listen. They ask me what they should order and care about what they’re going to drink. It’s great to share their passion.
Tell us what wines are your personal favorites?
I love the wines from the Rhone Valley. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte Rôtie are very exciting to me. I love to have a glass of Gevrey-Chambertin.
How do you like American wines?
I’m getting more interested in American wines. I like the pinot noirs from Oregon. In France, there is more complexity in the pinot noirs. The region, the climate, the soil make a very big difference, especially in Burgundy. We also bring in Bordeaux blends from California. These types of wines from America are very interesting to drink.
Tell us how to pair wine with cheese. This can be tricky.
Chardonnay goes well with many cheeses. Red wines from Gamay grapes from the Loire Valley or from the Beaujolais region go well with a cheese platter. Goat cheese is fantastic with a glass of Sancerre. Blue cheeses pair very well with a sweet wine, like a Sauternes or Barsac. Roquefort goes very well with a glass of muscat.
Why would you leave your job in Paris to come to work in Wellfleet? That’s a very big change.
I always worked in a restaurant that was established. I never had the opportunity to help open a restaurant, and this was a good opportunity for me. This is why I decided to come to work here. Growing up in Normandy I was used to the countryside. I grew up by the beach—Normandy is the Cape Cod of France. It’s a big change from Paris, but I knew what it was like to live in a small town. You get tired of the city. Here you get to enjoy the beach, the nature. No more subways, there’s less stress, I bike on the bike trail. I’m happy to be here.
A pitcher of sangria contains a fusion of flavors and ingredients—and makes for an ideal warm-weather sipper. The punch-like drink combines red or white wine, juices, spirits, a splash of soda, and chopped fruits. And this thirst-quencher has a lot going for it: the sweetness is a delicious counterpoint to spicy foods, it’s an easy-to-make party drink, and come summertime, the beverage tastes so right alongside seafood and salad. Read more…
At Karen and Sean Terrio’s wedding reception, guests toasted with cups of sake instead of flutes of champagne. It was fitting—the couple had just bought a Japanese restaurant. Now five years later, the Terrios, who own Misaki Sushi in Hyannis, have sipped countless sakes and know much about this ancient drink. “Learning about sake gives me a better understanding of Japanese traditions,” says Karen.
Once known as “the drink of gods,” sake has been around for thousands of years and is made from polished long grains of rice, spring water, yeast, and an enzyme known as koji that aids the fermentation. Although brewed like beer, it’s drunk like a wine.
Starting about three decades ago, new processes let brewers produce premium and artisanal sakes that are usually served cold in a wine glass. The quality is discerned by how much of the outer layers of the grain are polished away—the more polished, the higher the quality and cost. There is a plethora of styles from light and dry, slightly sweet, floral, with tastes of honey, persimmon or squash, to those infused with plums or left unfiltered and creamy. Look for the words Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Junmai Daiginjo or Nigori (unfiltered) on labels—these are some categories of the better grades of sake.
Sake bottles in various shapes and colors line the square tables at Misaki when Karen holds tastings with her staff. Calligraphy and sketches of historical Japanese figures, brushed characters, designs of the horizon, crashing waves and flowers, and mottos or poems in Japanese poems decorate the striking labels. The back label gives the sake’s exotic name in English, like Midnight Moon, Pearls of Simplicity, and Dreamy Clouds. While you might think certain French wine labels are hard to decipher, these are nearly impossible to read without learning a few kanji.
The fermented rice drink also makes creative cocktails. Shake with spirits and juices, and you have a saketini. Dump a hot ochoko – a tiny cylindrical cup used to serve sake – into a cold glass of beer and you have a sake bomb. ” Sake has become more trendy than ever before,” says Karen. (She still sometimes enjoys sipping the traditional warm cup of sake. “Its soothing.”)
From Hamada San, the restaurant’s Japanese sushi chef, the couple learned about sake etiquette. For example, the Japanese never pour their own sake when dining with other people. It’s up to a dining partner to fill another’s glass. “Understanding these rituals gives me a better understanding of this history” says Karen. ” There’s a lot to learn.”
For the last six years, John Clift has worked as beverage director and sommelier at Atria Restaurant in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, where he manages a wine list that includes up to 300 selections. He’s also the wine buyer for Great Harbor Gourmet & Spirits in Edgartown. Clift earned a sommelier certificate from the International Wine Academy of Roma eight years ago and studied wines from around the world as well as wine production. Each October, when Atria closes for the season, Clift spends four months traveling to wine-producing regions around the world to fuel his passion and seek out unique wines from small producers. He has an abundance of knowledge to share and inspires diners who ask him for wine advice.
How did you develop an interest in wine?
After I graduated from college in Charleston, South Carolina, I worked in restaurants. I had no experience with wine and never really drank wine. I was working in a French restaurant and the first glass of wine I had at work was a Champalou Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. It was different than anything I’d ever had and I just loved it. I loved the way people could sit down and drink wine and talk about food, politics, and life. Within six months of working in the restaurant, I was writing the wine list.
Tell us how you persuade a diner to try a wine.
We have a lot of return customers who trust me and know that I’ve tasted all the wines and stand behind any wine from $30 to $300. For customers I don’t know, I find out what they like and try to feel them out financially. I don’t want to offer someone a $150 wine when they want to spend $50.
Give us a few tips on how to pick a wine if you’re presented with an encyclopedia-sized wine list.
People should ask to talk to the wine director, sommelier, or someone else who is informed. The person involved with the list takes a lot of pride and is passionate about it. It’s amazing how you’ll get steered to a wine you would have never tasted because a sommelier or wine director explained something about the wine, their relationship with the wine maker, when they first tasted it, or why they put it on the list. Even if you want a $30 wine, it’s okay to ask for the sommelier’s advice.
Do you think the perception about sommeliers being arrogant has changed?
I hope so. It’s something I’ve always strived to change because there’s a stigma and snootiness about sommeliers in the industry. It’s really important to make yourself accessible to a person dining in the restaurant. There are a lot of younger people who are now passionate about wine and who may be intimidated by a list of 200 wines. I want people to ask for me to come over to the table, and I want to make them feel comfortable talking to me.
Tell us about a few new wine trends.
Italian wines have come back—especially wines from Southern Italy, like Sicily and Sardinia. They’re well priced, mostly $10 to $15 a bottle. We’ve see more and more wines from Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Moldova. They have really old vines and they make big, deep cabernets and syrahs that you can buy for $10 a bottle. There are also Napa cabernet producers who have a lot of wines in reserve. They are placing other labels on the bottles—so not to compromise their brand—and selling these for less. One is Provenance Vineyards. They have a ton of 2007 fruit and are selling their cabernet as Uppercut for half the price. These are wines to look for.
Many of the participants at Ken Mason’s wine seminar at the Hyannis Yacht Club arrived as skeptics. It wasn’t that they doubted the quality of the bottles they were about to sample—a flight from the highly rated Sonoma producer Ferrari-Carano. It was that they were going to sip the wines from expensive glasses made by Riedel, a famous Austrian crystal glassware company that pioneered the idea of making individual stemware for specific varietals. By contrast, some of the folks who attend Mason’s wine seminars, which he holds at various Cape restaurants, insisted that they could drink wine out of a grape jelly jar and the taste wouldn’t be any different. Mason thought otherwise.
Mason, who lives in Harwich, is a manager at Classic Wine Imports, a wine importer based in Norwood, Massachusetts, that also represents Riedel. Mason holds glass tastings on the Cape twice a year to demonstrate how Riedel glasses open up the nuances of the grape compared to all-purpose glasses. “Not only do the shapes of the bowl of Riedels enhance the aromas, the lip on the glass also directs wine to certain parts of your palate,” says Mason. For instance, he says, “The glass for chardonnay has a larger bowl and the glass’s lip directs the wine to the front of your palate. The riesling glass is tulip-shaped and the rim is bent out because riesling tends to be acidic. The glass directs the wine to parts of your palate that smooth the acidity.” For more tannic wines, like Bordeaux or Cabernet, glasses with narrow bowls are better vessels.
The prices of the Riedels can be steep: their best hand blown stems in the Sommeliers series can sell for $60 to more than $100 each. However, crystal, machine-made Riedels (the Vinum and Overture series) sell for about $15 a stem and offer different the same benefits as their pricier counterparts, like a large-bowled glass for Pinot Noir with a tapered rim to trap the wine’s more delicate aroma’s and flavors. “For the wine connoisseur, the Riedel glasses takes wine appreciation to the next level,” says John Kenney, the wine buyer for Harwich East Liquors in East Harwich. “You can step up your wine appreciation and identify more characteristics in a wine, but can you justify the cost?”
If the price of Riedel glasses is a bit out of reach, there are other reasonably priced glassware options on the shelves, like those from Schott Zwiesel. There isn’t the range of varietal specific glasses in this brand, but there are a few choices and the glasses have thin lips (best for tasting wine) and good-sized bowls for red wines and ones with large and narrower bowls for whites—and cost about $10 each. Schott Zwiesel wineglasses have an added benefit: they’re made from titanium and zirconium, so they’re resistant to chipping and breaking, especially in the dishwasher. Their larger size makes them good for swirling wine and getting a waft of the aroma.
At the Hyannis Yacht Club seminar, tasters found that the Riedel glasses allowed them to really appreciate the aromas and flavors in the wine. By the end, Mason says, the skeptics were convinced that the glasses made a difference. It turns out that it takes more than a jelly jar to get the most out of your wine.
It doesn’t matter if Wendy Koder is out at the fish market or out on her kayak: wherever she goes, almost everyone recognizes her as Wendy the Wine Lady. It’s a moniker that Koder has earned through three decades of educating Cape Codders about wine. The Upper Cape resident has worked in almost every aspect of the wine business, from a sommelier at Cape restaurants to a wine broker to a teacher at Sandwich Community School and other off Cape community colleges. These days, Koder handles marketing for Cotuit Liquors in Marstons Mills and Empire Wine & Spirits in Kingston. She also hosts wine classes and wine dinners through her own business, Wendy Talks Wine (www.wendytalkswine.com).
How did you get started in the wine industry?
After my youngest daughter was born, I started working at a very fine restaurant in South Carver, Mass. The woman who was purchasing the wine for the restaurant and writing the wine lists left. The owner handed me the wine list and said, “Here, you’re going to order the wine.” I didn’t know anything about wine; I didn’t even drink wine. Because I wanted to do the job correctly, I read everything I could and constantly went to trade wine tastings and seminars. I began to find wine very intriguing.
Have you seen wine styles evolve over the years? Read more…
Presented by GreatBrewers.com, South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week is a great opportunity to enhance your knowledge of different beers and increase your appreciation of tasty brews with a week of events throughout Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Boston’s South Shore. The event, which takes place during the week of May 9 to 14, features more than 150 events including beer dinners, tastings, educational seminars, and local brewery tours. Here are a few regional highlights of the week:
- On May 12 at 6:30 p.m., Garrett Oliver, renowned brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, hosts a beer dinner at the Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham.
- Cisco Brewers of Nantucket will conduct free VIP tours all week and is also hosting the national launch of the new Pechish Woods line at British Beer Company, Main Street, Hyannis on Wednesday, May 11 at 6 p.m.
Throughout the week, there are opportunities to sample many unique offerings from both international and regional brewers. South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week seeks to inform the public of the many kinds of beer and to illuminate the relatively unknown art of beer and food pairing. Traditionally, wine comes to mind as a beverage companion for a delicious meal. However, unlike wine, which is made from various grapes, beer is made of up millions of different ingredients from maple syrup to coriander. The vast and various ingredients in beer, along with carbonation (which acts as a natural way to cleanse the palate), makes beer easy to pair with many culinary choices.
In support of the local economy, South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week will donate $5 from every dinner served during Beer Week events as well as any donations received to local charities, including the Needy Fund of Cape Cod and the Childrens Hospital Boston. L. Knife and Son, a local distributor based in Kingston, Massachusetts, will match the proceeds raised.
When the snow stops falling on Cape Cod, you can be sure that the grills are about to come out of storage. Instead of the scent of woodstoves, the air fills with the smoky waft of baby back ribs and porterhouse steaks seared to mouth-watering perfection. With summer just around the bend, we need to pick wines that can stand up to charred foods slathered with sauces or seasoned with fiery dry rubs.
Foods that mingle with smoke and spice beg for well-structured, fruity, bold wines. For instance, a full-bodied red, like a young zinfandel with raisin fruit and spicy flavors, pairs well with the tangy sauces and the charred flavors of meats off the grill. A youthful shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley, with its distinctive black pepper spice, can also be a good partner for these heftier foods. The tannins that make your lips pucker in these big wines are offset by the fat and richness of grilled beef.
At the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis, steaks and other meats are pleasantly cooked on an indoor charcoal grill, and the restaurant complements the menu with a selection of wines from Argentina and Chile. Kelly Ayer, the co-owner of this churrasqueria (Brazilian steakhouse), finds malbecs from Argentina to be a good match for the restaurant’s grilled steaks, which are seasoned only with kosher or sea salt. “Malbecs have a lot of fruit, and the meat doesn’t take away the wines’ flavors,” says Ayer. The grape was originally grown in France and is used there mostly for making wines blended with other grapes. But in Argentina, malbec thrives in the Mendoza region and produces wines with grip and black fruit flavors—and sold at reasonable prices. Malbecs are some of Argentina’s best wines.
A traditional pairing for grilled steaks is an earthy cabernet, and Ayer serves selections from Chile where she says the “wines are very smoky and you can taste tobacco, in a good way.” Cabernets, which especially stand out for their quality, are some of the best wines in South America, and they possess a complexity that resonates well with beef.
At Trevi Café and Wine Bar in Mashpee, general manager Robert Rose makes selections for the wine list. When pairing with chicken and meatier grilled fishes like swordfish or salmon, Rose often picks red wines from France’s Rhône region, especially the Côtes du Rhône wines, made from blends of several grape varieties like grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah. There are many producers with a range of styles, but the wine typically has plumy fruit and softer tannins that don’t overpower. Rose also recommends some California pinot noirs because of their cherry and herbal flavors.
To enhance a plate of grilled shrimp or scallops, try the white wine albariño, from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in northwestern Spain, one of the best seafood regions in the Iberian Peninsula. Albariños have peach and citrus flavors, a refreshing quality, and the right weight to match the day’s catch. Verdicchio, a creamy wine with punchy mineral and pear flavors from central Italy’s Marche region, is another fine selection.
Those with adventurous palates might experiment with contrasting flavors. Try pairing a sweeter wine like an off-dry riesling with a spicy grilled fish. The flavors offset one another, and they might provide a pleasantly surprising dining experience.
Picking wines to enjoy alongside grilled fare requires experimentation, but it’s not an exact science. Be bold, and keep an open mind.