Port Helps Beat Winter Blahs
A look at Port including a review of Shiloh Fort Dessert Wine along with a review of Booker’s Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 29, 2014
Port is an ideal way to offset the winter doldrums. Now authentic Port comes only from Portugal. It is made from various varieties of very foreign-sounding grapes grown in the Douro Valley region of Portugal.
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 which, 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).
So between the different grapes and the different aging processes, Port comes in an off-puttingly confusing variety of styles, including “Vintage,” which only comes from the best vintages and requires many years of further reductive maturation in bottle; Tawny, which has spent at least two years in oak barrels; Colheita; LBV (or “late-bottle vintage”); Ruby; White – and can also be produced as a semi-dry or even an extra-dry wine, but generally, sweet is what the market and tradition calls for. Whatever the style, Port is usually served at the end of a meal, with dessert or as the dessert. There are some kosher Ruby and late-bottled vintage Ports to be found, but nobody has yet produced any kosher “vintage” Port or any of the other styles for that matter.
So while the Portuguese would undoubtedly prefer that only their wines be called “Port,” similarly labeled and similarly styled fortified wines are actually produced in Australia, U.S., South Africa and, of course, Israel.
A fine example is the Shiloh Fort Dessert Wine ($30), an Israeli fortified wine created from late-harvested Cabernet Sauvignon (50 percent), Petite Syrah (20 percent), and Merlot (30 percent). While not truly a “Port” since it is not produced in Portugal, it is a quite enjoyable fortified wine that expresses a complex interplay of currants, cedar, dried dark plums, black cherries, vanilla and some spice with chocolate in the finish. It is a charming and warming distraction from the cold winter weather.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d warm ourselves a bit with some fine domestic hooch, in this case Booker’s Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($60).
Booker’s Small Batch is part of the Jim Beam family of bourbons (soon to be owned by the Japanese drinks company Suntory). It is essentially bottled straight from the barrel, without dilution or filtration. Booker’s can be found, depending on the batch your bottle is from (for this review we sampled a bottle from Batch #2013-6), aged between six to eight years and bottled at between 121 and 127 proof (ours is 7 ½ years old and 125.9 proof, or 62.95 percent abv).
Booker’s bourbon began as a private holiday gift for special friends and was named after Jim Beam’s grandson Booker Noe (Frederick Booker Noe II), the legendary master distiller. Booker Noe had been bottling a small run of cask strength, unfiltered, 6- to 8-year-old bourbon as a holiday gift for several years before the company felt the market was ripe for such a product.
In 1988, Booker introduced his “Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon.” It was finally released commercially only in 1992, by then called simply “Booker’s.” Only 100 cases were produced because that was all they thought they’d need to last a few years. That first release sold out quickly, however, and Jim Beam responded according to demand. Soon, demand forced Jim Beam to greatly increase production, and now it remains one of the Jim Beam flagship products.
Booker Noe and his son Fred (Frederick Booker Noe III) would select barrels for this high-proof bourbon. After Booker’s 2004 passing, Fred kept the tradition .
Booker’s Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Batch #2013-6; aged 7 ½ years; 62.95 percent abv; $60): this delicious amber-colored nectar is tight, dense and rich. Before water is added, it offers aromas of vanilla, baked apples, honey, light floral scents, distinct sweet cedar and charred oak woody notes, and rich toffee, followed by rather hot but sweet flavors of toffee, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, drying walnut-like tannins, lots of woody notes and pepper. The addition of a little water opens the aromatics even more while pushing much of the heat away, especially on the mid-palate, revealing additional flavor notes of sweet vanilla, toasted oak, toasted toffee, hints of root beer and licorice, and some dry spices. The finish is long and absorbing with a bit of drying tannins, sweet caramel and peppery, cinnamon heat. This is a delightful, bold, pure, powerful bourbon whiskey! Go real easy on that water, however, as too much will throw it way out of balance. L’Chaim!