GIBSON ON GRAPES: Don’t wait for Christmas, steer to port now

'Lovely' - late-bottled Fonseca

'Lovely' - late-bottled Fonseca

Kayra Narince 2015

Try re-invigorating your jaded palates with these...

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Port is considered a very British drink. It seems as certain as night follows day that the festive season wouldn’t be the same without Stilton closely followed by the port.

However, like those car stickers you often see, port isn’t just for Christmas.

Ideal with hard cheese

Ideal with hard cheese

I’ve just returned from a two-day visit to Porto and the Douro Valley – without question one the world’s most dramatic and beautiful wine regions – and it reminded me just how varied and interesting the various styles of port are.

There are the classic vintage varieties through to the incredibly under-appreciated (in the UK at any rate) tawny ports that work so well with many desserts.

Tradition is very much part of port and in some houses the grapes for the best wines are still trodden by foot.

I was lucky to visit Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, one of the great port estates, and it is easy to see when you are knee-deep in grapes just how steeped in tradition this fortified wine really is.

This tawny was a revelation

This tawny was a revelation

I worked my way through many styles and ranges of ports on that trip and here are a few to taste that really don’t need waiting for the Stilton at Christmas.

Late-bottled vintage port – or LBV – is a relatively recent addition to port categories, developed as a ready-to-drink alternative to vintage port.

Fonseca Unfiltered LBV (Hennings Wine £16.99) is a lovely example. The 2011, which is on the way to the UK, is a cracker but both the 2008 and 2009 vintages currently available are excellent.

In many ways it’s an old-fashioned style, deep in colour with dark berry and plum and a touch of chocolate. The palate is rich with sweet berries, velvety tannins and a long, moreish finish. It would be lovely with blue cheese including Stilton, or a dark chocolate and berry dessert.

Tawny port is a style that was a revelation on my trip and a chocolate and fig dessert served with Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny (amazon.co.uk £35.89, The Whisky Exchange £37.75) was one of the most perfect food and wine combinations I’ve ever experienced.

Tawny ports are aged in the barrel and over time take on the colour that gives them their name. This is an impeccably-balanced wine with aromas of spices, nuts, orange peel and toffee before a rich, concentrated palate that seems to go on forever. Try it slightly chilled and serve with chocolate desserts or just on its own after a meal.

Single quinta (or estate) ports are made in exactly the same way as vintage ports and are generally only released when a vintage is not declared.

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2002 (Majestic £30 or £27 as a part of a mixed six, Waitrose £29.99) is deep in colour, with black cherry, violets and coffee on the nose with a richly-layered palate still with some firm tannins. Try this with some mature, hard cheese.

- Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call 01243 431002.

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