This week, with a terrible cold in full swing, I opted for the potency of a nice, sweet, ruby port.
Port is an ideal way to offset the winter doldrums. 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. 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 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 is aged in one of two basic processes, depending on style (and eventual price).
Port comes in a confusing variety of styles, but only two are available in kosher versions. They are ruby and late-bottled-vintage ports, which is just another higher quality version of ruby port — it is not remotely the same thing as a “vintage” port.
The best of the small number of available kosher ports is the Quevedo Ruby Port (19.5 percent abv; $24; comes in a nonkosher version so check for 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. Full-bodied, full-flavored.
Spirits-wise, sticking very 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 a marketing thing 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 cask will impart interesting flavors to 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 practtioners 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. He has since described this as his “safe bet,” as sherry cask whiskies are 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 transferred 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 them, but simply to re-toast them. As he put it, they effectively “caramelized all of that winey goodness, leaving it in place rather than scraping it away, and really bringing the flavors forward.”
The real important part, of course, is the answer to the two fundamental questions: Is this hooch any good? 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, 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!