WHEN THE chocolate comes out this Valentine’s Day, put away the cab, merlot and pinot noir. They just don’t go together.
But if you’re looking for something simply sublime to pair with your Godiva or Ghirardelli, pull the cork on a red dessert wine and watch all inhibitions melt away.
Fortified dessert wines are made by adding brandy partway through the fermentation process. The spirits kill the yeast, leaving a sweet, high-alcohol wine that can age for decades.
When we talk about red fortified dessert wines, we often are referring to Ports, made in the Douro Valley of Portugal. These are some of the finest wines on Earth. Indeed, the two greatest wines I’ve tasted were Ports, one from 1963, another from 1896.
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The process of adding brandy began as a way to preserve wines during the long journey from Portugal to London. Roy Hersh, who lives in the Seattle area, is one of the nation’s leading Port experts and runs the website For The Love of Port.
Nearly as famous is Madeira, a fortified dessert wine made on the Portuguese-owned island of Madeira, which is in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco. While Madeiras are produced like Ports, they are more oxidized than Ports because of the longer sea voyage traditionally taken. This gives Madeiras flavors that lean toward molasses and caramel. The Herbfarm in Woodinville is home to one of the greatest collection of Madeiras anywhere, with bottles going back to 1795 — when George Washington was president!
In the New World, winemakers are not supposed to call their wines “Port” because they don’t come from Portugal. Some still do because they have done so since before the European Union made a stink over it. Instead, you might see fanciful names such as “Starboard” (get it?).
Fortified wines come in all price ranges, and they typically hold up better after being opened than a dry table wine.
Blue cheeses such as Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola pair marvelously with these wines. But for this holiday, surprise your sweetie with a great box of chocolate and a bottle of Port or Madeira.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.