Cigars and alcohol have been a dynamic duo for thousands of years. From scotch and a Montecristo to brandy and a H. Upmann, they have been escorting each other to weddings, galas, and celebrations all over the world.
Though there are shelves of alcohol that go well with cigars, there is one that smokers often overlook: Port wine. Sitting in the back of a wine cellar simply waiting for someone to drink in its glory, port wine knows it is important when it comes to cigars.
Nearly as sweet as a spoonful of sugar, Port would probably have been the preference of Mary Poppins had she let her hair down and decided to have a drink. Known also as Vinho do Porto, Oporto, and Porto, Port is fortified wine hailing from the northern parts of Portugal. Though there are Port-like wines made in other countries, such as the US, Portugal lays claim to true Port. The others are, in a simple alliteration, Port Posers.
Made from grapes in the Douro Valley, Port has a long and colorful history. Produced in Portugal since the mid 1400’s, it didn’t gain popularity until the Methuen Treaty of 1703. A treaty that was used to – as treaties are known to do – solve war related conflicts, this agreement also put Port on the European map by strengthening the Port wine trade. Soon, England was very important to the world of Port.
The process of making port is an arduous one. It initially involves picking grapes, smashing them (don’t worry, they use stunt doubles), and then placing the remnants in a tank where they are chopped further into tiny pieces. After sitting in this tank for close to 24 hours, the grapes begin to ferment and their sugar evolves into something else: alcohol.
With Port wine, after fermentation begins, timing takes over. This is where Port becomes somewhat special and a whole lot different. Once half of the grape's sugar has been converted, fermentation must be stopped. In order to do this, the wine is mixed with clear brandy containing a proof of 150. The alcohol in the brandy kills the yeast in the wine, causing fermentation to cease. The ending result is a wine that is sweeter and higher in alcohol content than most.
Though there are many styles of Port – White Port, Ruby Port, Young Tawny Port, Aged Tawny Port, Vintage Character Port, Late Bottled Vintage Port, Traditional Late Bottled Vintage Port, Vintage Port, Single Quinta Vintage Port, Crusted Port, and Garrafeira Port – most styles fall into two broad categories: Bottle aged or Cask aged. Because doing the tiniest thing different will result in a different taste of wine, the two Port processes greatly dictate the flavorful outcome.
While Bottle-aged Ports generally behave like wine on Botox, keeping their color and their fruitiness well into maturity, Cask aged Ports lose flavor quickly. They are ready to drink right away and should be consumed quickly.
Some of the best Ports to know are the Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port, W. & J. Graham's Tawny Port, Smith Woodhouse Vintage Character Port, Niepoort Vintage Port, Quinta do Infantado Single Quinta Vintage Port, and Adriano Ramos-Pinto Late Bottled Vintage Port.
Port wine, because of its innate sweetness, is usually served with desserts, and cheese. But, when accompanied with a cigar (hand rolled ones make a particularly ideal pairing), desserts don’t hold a candle and the cheese, as a Tawny Port ditches a block of cheddar for a Camacho Corojo, stands alone.