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Vintage Port Tasting, Wellington

Published in the Nelson Mail 12.09.18

A few weeks ago I got an email asking me if I would be interested in going to a luncheon in Wellington to taste a range of Vintage Port wines, including the release of 2016 Vintage Ports, of course I said yes, just because someone has to do these things.

Kahurangi Liquor Distributors are the New Zealand agents for the Croft and Krohn Port houses and while I have tasted their wares many times it was the temptation of tasting wines from the outstanding 2016 vintage that had me heading to Wellington for a day last week.

Two things made this an event not to miss; firstly, it was being hosted by Nick Heath who is the Group Marketing Director for The Fladgate Partnership, which purchased the family owned Croft Port House in 2001 and Wiese & Krohn Port House in 2013.

Nick Heath, Amanda and Greg Day at Noble Rot, Wellington for the Vintage Port tasting

Nick was born in Oporto in 1954 into a family which has been involved in the Port Wine business in Portugal for over 170 years. His grandfather was a partner in Fonseca until 1947.

After being educated in Portugal and England, Nick graduated from Cambridge University in 1976 and then returned to Portugal to join one of the leading port houses where he became responsible for wine making and blending after training in oenology at the University of Bordeaux.

So we were in the company of a man who has immense knowledge of Port wine making it an opportunity to learn more about a product I like immensely.

The second thing that enticed me to endure a flight to Wellington for a few hours on a stormy day was the venue, Noble Rot is a very cool wine bar and restaurant in Swan Lane, off upper Cuba St, that has garnered a reputation as one of Wellington’s finest hospitality businesses in recent years.

When we think about Port wines we usually think of them as something to have at the end of a meal or maybe while sitting in front of the fire on a cold winter’s evening so it was really interesting for me to try a range of Ports with food.

Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the defined Douro region of Portugal, when the base wine has been made it is fortified with a grape spirit like Cognac, this stops the fermentation at just the right time to ensure there is some natural residual sweetness, and of course enhanced alcohol levels.

Before I get into the wine and food pairing let’s have a little look at the history of these two Port Houses, located in the Douro Valley the Qunitas (estates or vineyards) are some of the finest in this premium Port producing region of Portugal, Croft is the oldest Port House with a history dating back to 1588 while Krohn was founded in 1865 by two young Norwegians, Theodor Wiese and Dankert Krohn.

During the 20th century Krohn built an outstanding reputation for its cask-aged Ports, in particular its flagship ‘Colheitas’ or single harvest tawny ports. Because these wines have been aged in casks or barrels the result is a wine that has been exposed to small amounts of air during the aging process and that means when you open a bottle you won’t need to drink it within a day or two, once opened it will stay in the same condition for many weeks.

Krohn is also highly regarded for its Vintage Ports that come from its flagship property in the Rio Torto Valley.

Croft on the other hand is simply regarded as one of the very best producers of Vintage and Vintage style Port wines. With Quintas in different parts of the Douro Valley the star is the Quinta do Roe?da, often described as the jewel of the Douro quintas it forms a vast south-west facing semicircle of terraced vineyard on the right bank of the Douro River making it one of the most picturesque vineyards in Oporto as well as one of the finest.

In exceptional vintages, about three times a decade based on historical evidence, the major Port houses gather and ‘declare’, a term that means the vintage is so good it is appropriate to produce a vintage labelled Port.

Vintage Port wines are Ruby Ports meaning they are aged in large oak vats for about two years before being bottled whereas Tawny Ports are aged in similar vats for two to three years and are pre-oxidised so they last longer than Ruby Port once opened.

Vintage Ports tend to be intensely rich with body and structure that allows them to age for many years, even decades in some instances. The oldest bottle of vintage Port we have in our cellar is from the outstanding 1977 vintage, the last bottle we tried a couple of years ago showed the wine still has many years of life left.

Before 2016 the last declaration was in 2011 and at the tasting last week we were able to compare non-vintage wines with those from the 2009, 2011 and 2016 vintages, of particular interest to me was the differences between the 2016 Ports from Krohn and Croft, wines that were only bottled about three weeks ago.

Now this is where you are allowed to be just a little envious, four courses of beautiful food, each served with two Ports.

Pan roasted snapper with broccolini and caramelised pineapple

The second course of our food and Port journey was a white Port served with snapper and roasted pineapple; white Port is made from a range of white grape varieties like Moscatel, Verdelho, and the most widely planted white grape variety in the region, Codega.

This was an inspired wine and food pairing by the chef at Noble Rot, the small pieces of pineapple were sautéed with vanilla and it was the acidity of the pineapple and aromatics of the vanilla that bought the whole thing together as a stunning combination.

beef tenderloin, blackberries and mushrooms

The next course was beef tenderloin, blackberries and mushrooms paired with the two 2016 Vintage Ports; Where the Croft 2016 is a wine that is rich, opulent, and fresh, with crushed black berry fruit flavours, nicely integrated silky tannins, beautifully balanced and very approachable now even though it was only bottled two weeks before the tasting the Krohn 2016 has a bright, vibrant deep ruby red colour, aromas packed with layers of spiced black berries, mocha, black pepper and a palate that is mouth-filling and packed with black berry fruit flavours, firm but beautifully integrated tannins and some nice spicy alcohol heat in the finish.

Dessert was delicious!

I saved a little to try with the selection of petit fors served as a dessert and both of these Ports were perfect with the bitter chocolate mousse and olive oil cake that had a most unexpected caramel popcorn flavour.

So for me this luncheon wasn’t just about tasting Port wines, it was a chance to try them with a range of foods, and I know one thing for certain, we will be serving white Port with seafood and caramelised pineapple at our place sometime soon.

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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