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Culpeper Times • January 12-18, 2017

Strange Portents THE WINE NERD

Winter is no friend to man. I Jim Hollingshead just returned from a week-long stay in the mountains of Montana, and never has 20 degrees felt so warm as it did stepping off the plane at Dulles. After days of the thermometer hovering below zero, anything warmer felt downright balmy. Whether the temperature is below zero in Fahrenheit or only in Celsius, it is helpful to have a couple of standby wines to get through the winter. When needing to warm up, the easiest bottle to reach for is one of the most ignored in America: Port. This fortified wonder, and its sister Madeira, are heavily entrenched in early American history, but are generally left on the bleachers

today. Port is a wine and a half. Like many wonders in the world of alcohol, it was created out of necessity; in this case, to survive voyages. Like the famous IPA of the beer world, the higher-alcohol and heavily-oxidized port was created to withstand voyages around the globe. Today, the winemaking process is easy enough to understand. Rich red wine is made, and a grape spirit much like brandy is added before fermentation has had time to complete. This raises the alcohol content and kills off the yeast before it can consume all of the sugar. The result is a murky, powerful sweetness that needs time to calm down. The port is then stored in barrels to age for years. What makes most port even more unusual is the fact that there is no vintage; each bottle has many years’ grapes blended into it. Each time a barrel is emptied, some of the old wine is left in to mix with the

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fresh, new wine that will be aged with it next. Only in rare, exceptional years is a port made out of only that one year’s wine. The extended aging in barrels continues to transform the wine. The longer the port sits in the barrel, the more the color changes from a deep red to a lighter brown. Younger Ruby Ports hold their red color, along with more of a juicy sweetness. Older Tawny Ports are drier, nuttier, and paler. Oak and oxygen have robbed them of their bloody hue, leaving the dirty brown. You could argue that older ports have been ruined so badly that they have come full circle to being great again. As a rule, port is the best thing to pair with a cigar or a pipe. The

rich, often sweet tone of fruits and nuts balances the spice and power of tobacco. My favorite pairing, however, is a heavy-duty blue cheese. The story of port is that of a wine being ruined so badly that it has come around full circle to being fantastic. This winter, try pouring yourself a glass when you come in from the cold. Next to a hot toddy, it’s the best thing to warm you up! Jim Hollingshead is a rabid oenophile who was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Texas, and has fallen in love with the rolling hills of Virginia. He is The Wine Nerd at the Culpeper Cheese Company, and occasionally pretends to have other interests. You can reach him at 540-8274757 or

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Culpeper Times - Jan. 12th, 2017  

Culpeper Times - Jan. 12th, 2017