’Tis the Season for Port

Some of my favorite Christmas holidays were spent in England, for a couple of reasons.

No. 1, in those pre-video/DVD days, the BBC ran a lot of American films that I had never had a chance to see in my home country, and they were shown straight through, commercial free. It’s where I finally got to see the original King Kong for the first time, an experience that lived up to the hyperbole about it that I had soaked up from every monster magazine I could get my hands on as a kid. It remains one of the great film experiences of my life.

No. 2, it was the time of year people brought out the port and sherry. I don’t cling to many traditions, but this will always be the port and sherry season for me.

Here are a couple of ports I tried recently.

Warre’s Heritage Ruby Porto

Ports are wines that are fortified with brandy, which stops the fermentation process and allows the resulting liqueur to be aged. There are three basic types of port (not counting white port, which, of course, is made from white grapes): ruby, tawny and vintage.

Ruby port is the youngest of the fortified port wines, aged no more than three years and meant to be drunk young. Some will try to tell you rubies are entry-level ports. What a load of rubbish! A ruby port may be younger than a tawny or vintage port, but it can dazzle the palate as much as its older siblings. Of all the ports, ruby port looks and tastes most like red wine, but with far more complexity.

Warre’s Heritage Ruby Porto is from a British company that has been doing business since 1670 in the Portuguese wine region (Douro River Valley) where port was born. Only ports from this region can be called porto. Warre’s calls itself “the original British port house.”

This is both reasonably priced and a pleasure to drink. It’s got a big, round cherry flavor, meaning that it starts out on a tart note and swirls around on your palate in a kaleidoscope of flavors, and finishes on a wild cherry note. It weighs in at 19 percent.

De Bortolli Willowglen Reserve Tawny

Tawny port is the next oldest in the port family, and can be aged up to 40 years, and, as with the previous entry, the name refers generally to the color of the product.

This entry hails from an Australian vintner, so can’t call itself porto and eschews the designation port on the bottle altogether. But I’m no port snob, and this is a very tasty port. Dark cherry and chocolate and caramel and a richly exotic spice that I couldn’t identify because it might not be of this earth. And then more dark cherry. This is a vibrant tawny that registers 17 percent.

We’ll have to get to a vintage port and some sherries another time, because I also have to mention an amazing fruit beer I tried recently.

Kasteel Rouge is a Belgian ale with cherries and cherry juice added, from the Castle Brewery of Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. The beer I was drinking was bottled on March 15, 2012 (it said so in a little white label at the bottom of the bottle). The rich deep ruby flavor of cherries makes this beer sing! Incredible flavor and not a hint of the eight percent alcohol. It’s my new favorite fruit beer.