Friday, March 31, 2023

Centuries of Knowledge and Stock Power Kopke Port


It would seem trivial to suggest port might have its moment since it's been around for centuries. The Douro Valley, where the fortified wine comes from in Portugal, is the third oldest official wine region in Europe after Chianti and Tokaj. What's more, while that designation for the Douro came in 1756, Kopke has been making wines since 1638. Heck, that's the year Dom Pérignon was born, and I mean the monk, not the Champagne house. If Shakespeare could have lived to 74, he might have sipped Kopke's first vintage. 

That means Kopke's got a track record and a cellar full of deliciously aging wines and ports. I had the great fortune to receive the fancy box of samples you see above in three different stages of unpacking, and then got to take part on a Zoom tasting with Carla Tiago, Kopke's winemaker, and Serge Lozach, managing director of importer Wine in Motion, a few weeks ago. In many ways the hour was an education in port as much as a tasting, so here's a quick report (no pun intended).

It turns out you can use more 100 varieties of grapes to make port, as long as they are native to Portugal. Sometimes Kopke calls the varietals, as they do with their 2012 Colheita Tawny that is equal parts Touring Nacional, Touring Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Tina Barroca, and sometimes they are a bit coy and say "traditional Douro grape varieties." Guess you have to protect the brand. The wines are all fortified to 20% ABV with neutral spirits.

And it's important to introduce the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, the government-run agency that strictly regulates (and also promotes--could you imagine the ATF doing that here in the U.S.?) port production. They keep an eye on those "brandies" used for fortification, they help decide what it means to call a port a 10 or 20 years old tawny. For that's not a strict math equation, that is, you can't go "current year - # of years on bottle = year wine was made." It's a declaration of style and quality and depth, so a 10 years old might have wines blended in that are older or younger than ten years, but it tastes--consistently--the same. And the Instituto is a big part of that actually meaning something.

Most striking for Kopke is they have helped pioneer white ports, a category the Institute only classified in 2007. The two in the tasting were both fascinating, expanding my mind as to the possibility of port. It pours more golden than white, and both the 2003 Colheita White and the 20 Years Old White were honeyed without toppling into saccharine, and rich with dried fruits, marzipan, and molasses notes. At this point and throughout the tasting winemaker Tiago stressed the "freshness" of the wines, and they definitely felt not just lively but alive, tethered by good acidity to match the sugar. Indeed, all the Colheita--think vintage--bottlings especially seemed evolving, and Lozach insisted when we tasted the Tawny Colheita 2012, to jump ahead a bit, that if we gave in ten more years in bottle, it wouldn't even taste like the same wine.

The 2003 white had a finish that could complete the whole Camino de Santiago (ok, that's in Spain, I know), wile the 20 Years Old White almost had more complexity, if a tiny bit less clarity of purpose. The refinement of the 2003 stood out. What also became clear is how well these wines might pair with a variety of foods. Too often people get stuck in the sweet pairs with sweet mindset, and save port for dessert, but these whites could easily add depth and intrigue to a buttery lobster or a turbot in cream sauce.

The tawny wines also delighted in a completely different register, offering more fresh fruit notes--cherry and plum--but also caramel, cinnamon, even tobacco in the 20 Years Old tawny. 

If you're wondering, since it is a fortified wine, port can last if you store it in the fridge. (Indeed, you want to chill it before drinking, too.) The vintage wines need to be consumed quickly, but the year designates can hold for up to three months. Even though my guess is if you get a bottle from a great house like Kopke, you'll never get close to that deadline.

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