*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Port, or Porto, or if you want to get really fancy, Vinho do Porto, is Portugal’s contribution to the world of fortified wine. Portuguese Port is produced solely in the north of the country, in the Douro valley. Along with Italy’s Chianti, and Hungary’s Tokaj, the Douro is one of the oldest officially recognized and protected wine regions in the world. It’s a common myth that Port was “invented” by British exporters and sailors who added brandy to wine so that it would keep on the long journey from Portugal to England. While that practice almost certainly occurred, it was apparently not the origin of this rich, sweet wine as we know it. In the mid to late 1700’s, wine producers and exporters were made aware of England’s taste for sweeter, stronger wines, and realized they could achieve that style by adding brandy or an un-aged grape spirit to fermenting wine to halt the fermentation process. This not only leaves more residual sugar in the wine, but also creates a wine which, due to its higher alcohol content, is more highly influenced by aging in oak barrels. At this time, the fact that the higher alcohol content kept the wine better in shipping, was more of a bonus for producers rather than a means to an end.
Port is primarily made up of five grape varietals. Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional are the most widely used with the lighter, more delicate Francesa balancing the darker, tannic Nacional. Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Cão are used mostly as blending components. Port can be aged/matured in the barrel, in the bottle, or in the tank, depending on the style. Ruby Port is the most common, inexpensive type, and has been stored briefly in tanks before bottling. Because Port is a fortified wine, a tank or bottle creates a reductive environment, wherein the liquid retains much of its original color but loses its tannic quality over time, becoming much smoother and simpler. Tawny Port, another fairly common style, is blended from several vintages and estates, and aged for many years in casks called pipes, which are large (approx. 500-600 liters), usually made of American Oak (Quercus Alba), and are quite tapered on the ends compared to American barrels. Aging Port in oak casks creates an oxidative environment where the wine has the effects of the oak imposed, its original color changed, and due to evaporation, its viscosity upped. The Colheita style is basically Tawny Port but from a single harvest. The somewhat confusing Late Bottled Vintage is Port from a single year that has been cask-aged for around four to six years, then deemed ready to drink and bottled. Late Bottled Vintage Port is more or less the poor man’s Vintage Port which is the top-of-the-line style in the Port world. Vintage Port is aged in oak for only two to three years, then bottled, then stashed away for at least 20 years to age further. Vintage Ports are only produced from what are deemed the best harvest years, therefore you might only see two or three vintages in a decade. Vintage Ports are the most expensive variety, but also the most complex and the most enduring with bottles easily holding up well after 30-40 years of cellaring.
Lest you think this is turning into some kind of high-brow Port blog, fear not, it’s the same low-brow whisky blog you’ve been putting up with for five years. I just wanted to get a grip on some Port knowledge before diving into this release from the Creative Whisky Company. The Exclusive Malts 2004 Speyside 10 Year Old Port Cask comes from an undisclosed Speyside distillery (no, I don’t have any guesses as to which one), and spent its entire life maturing in a Port pipe.
The Nose: The pink-tinged amber color of this 10 year old certainly hints that you’re going for a bit of ride. A light and dusty nose with quite a bit of holiday fruitcake. The fruit that’s here is dry and not very sweet; dried apples, dried cherries, and those tannic little chokecherries. The malt shows up a little sweeter but also has a slight grape-mustiness about it . It’s slightly woody without much spice to speak of, just a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. Adding a bit of water tones down the dusty dried fruit a little while adding a slight beery quality to the malt notes
The Palate: Much like the nose, subtle dried fruits, with an added bit of citrus zing. Caramel-y malt, vanilla syrup and cherries in dark chocolate lead to a bit more spice, fresh sawn oak, sweet clove, cinnamon bark, and white pepper. Water brings out more sweetness, juicier fruit and softer cocoa notes. It also calms the young, slightly edgy spice at the end.
The Finish: Lengthy and nicely hot. The dusty red fruit quality remains, growing quite dry and tannic at the end
Thoughts: A subtle, but adventurous youngster. While not heavy, the dusty, dried fruit Port influence is balanced and consistent throughout and plays well with the malt notes. It was certainly interesting to pick up quite a few fruit notes without the usual accompanying sweetness. I liked the nose better straight but thought the palate benefitted from the addition of a little water – it sweetened things up and smoothed them out. Port matured whiskies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I tend to like their slightly funky uniqueness. This one’s no exception.
The Exclusive Malts 2004 Speyside 10 Year Old Port Cask, Speyside (duh), IB ~2014