Thinking Of Portugal | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Thinking Of Portugal

Thinking Of Portugal

Some Port and limited-edition whisky to beat the winter blues.

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This week, with a terrible cold in full swing, I opted for the potency of a nice, sweet ruby port.

Port, which in its authentic variety comes only from Portugal, is an ideal way to offset the winter doldrums. It is made from various varieties of very foreign-sounding grapes grown in the Douro Valley region of that country. There are plenty of decent kosher Port-style wines, too.

Port is a typically heavy, rich, sweet, high-alcohol (usually 18-20 percent abv) wine not only due to the type of grapes used, but also because it is fortified; the winemakers add some measure of distilled grape spirits (a local brandy known as “aguardiente” or “fire water”) to fortify the wine with an artificially higher alcohol content; that, in turn, immediately kills the yeast cells, halting the fermentation process before the grapes’ remaining sugar is converted into alcohol. The wine then gets aged in one of two basic processes, depending on style (and eventual price).

Port comes in a wide-ranging but often confusing variety of styles, but only two are available in kosher versions: ruby and late-bottled-vintage Ports, which is just another higher-quality version of ruby Port — it is NOT even remotely the same thing as a “vintage” port.

Easily the best of the small number of available kosher ports is the Quevedo Ruby Port (19.5 percent abv; $24; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification). This vibrant, fresh, very fruity ruby Port offers great balance between acidity and fruit, with jammy flavors of black currant, cherry, raspberry and also vanilla and mocha, with lovely aromatics of flowers, blueberry and hazelnut. Gets better as it breathes. It’s full bodied and full flavored.

Spirits-wise, sticking loosely to the Portugal theme, my thoughts turn to a new limited-edition Scotch whisky from the Glenmorangie Distillery. Each year, Glenmorangie releases a new here-today-gone-tomorrow whisky as part of its “Private Edition” range. This is basically just a marketing thing for them to tinker with new and unusual whisky “finishes” or extra maturation — in which an already mature whisky is put for a limited time in an oak cask that has recently held something else, such as wine, rum or bourbon. The key idea being that this new or fresh “used” cask will impart interesting new flavors on the whisky.

This “Private Edition” range was launched in 2010 by Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of distilling and whisky creation. Widely considered one of the best practitioners of “wood finishes” in Scotch whisky, he has demonstrated an enviable talent for marrying intelligent wood management systems and marketing. After years of successful wood finished whisky releases, he spearheaded this limited edition series, and launched the Glenmorangie “Sonnalta” in 2010, a whisky finished in wine casks that previously held sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry.  Lumsden has since described this as his “safe bet,” since sherry cask whiskies are such a well-established segment of the market. It was a sensational whisky.

This was followed by increasingly experimental efforts: the enjoyable “Finealta (lightly peated whisky aged in a combination of sherry and virgin-oak casks), the interesting “Artein” (Italian red wine casks), the expensive but outstanding Scotch-for-Bourbon-lovers that was “Ealanta” (virgin oak casks), the respectable “Companta” (French red wine casks), and then the so-so “Tùsail,” which focused on barley varieties rather than barrel finishes.

The current release is the Glenmorangie “Milsean,” which is apparently Scots Gaelic for “sweet things.” The Milsean is a used-bourbon-cask-matured whisky (i.e., the signature Glenmorangie whisky), which was then transferred for a few years to casks that previously held red wine from the Douro region of Portugal. According to Lumsden, the distillery’s normal procedure for wine cask finishes is to scrape the barrels clean before re-toasting the insides for finishing. This time, however, Lumsden decided not to scrape the barrels clean, but to simply re-toast them. As he put it, this time they effectively “caramelized all of that winey goodness, leaving it in place rather than scraping it away, and really bringing the flavors forward…”  

All of which stays in line with the usual marketing shtick. The real important part, of course, is the answer to the two fundamental questions: “Is this hooch any good?” and “Is it worth the money?” Thankfully, this year the answers are “yes” and “yes.”

Glenmorangie “Milsean” Private Edition Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $105): this sweet and rather fruity yet meaty whisky offers complex aromas of fudge, toffee, coconut, blueberries and candied orange peel, with wonderfully satisfying flavors of cinnamon spice, ginger, tart cherry, coconut, toffee, under ripe plum, melon, oranges and apricots with a nice, lingering balanced sweet and spicy tang on the clean finish. A really lovely, sweet whisky. With water, however, the sweetness simply takes over — enjoyable, perhaps for those with a sweet tooth. Without that additional water the tart, spicy and tangy elements balance it all beautifully.

L’Chaim!

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