John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: No-risk sophistication

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Warre's Warrior Reserve Port, $59. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Warre's Warrior Reserve Port, $59. Photo / Steven McNicholl

"If champagne speaks of celebration, then port speaks of relaxation."

So says Rupert Symington, the joint managing director of Symington Family Estates in Portugal, who travels the world with evangelical zeal espousing the joys of wine in general and Warre's Port in particular.

The House of Warre's was founded in 1670 so they know a thing or two about putting together this, what was at one time, the most fashionable of mellow fortified red wines. After a considerable time in the wilderness of the wine world, port is seeking to re-invent itself by dropping the soaring prices of the 1980s to more realistic levels and coming up with creative ways to serve it.

"In the past, port consumption was part of a ritual," says Symington. "We've got to get beyond just buying port at Christmas. It's a jolly nice wine and can work as an aperitif, it's great on its own, it goes well with dark chocolate and of course it's a natural with cheese."

Jorge Nunes is the Warre's oenologist and is equally enthusiastic.

"Tawny port can be chilled and is lovely as a refreshing pre-dinner drink. It's all a question of getting the wine in the glass and for people to try it."

There are a number of reasons that fine wine is expensive. It requires low cropping and is labour intensive as the growing areas are often steep and all picking, pruning, spraying and general maintenance must be done by hand.

Also, new emerging markets like Asia don't really have a dessert or cheese culture, so it's a hard sell.

"We need to find new ways of making port visible and relevant and to play on its sophistication but not be patronising," says Symington. "It is an expensive wine, you start drinking port at 35 because that's when you can afford it."

The two most popular port styles are tawny and ruby. Tawny ports are a blend of vintages aged in wood for between 10 and 50 years and can develop wonderful complexity and refinement. Tawny means brown and indicates older, more mature wines. Ruby ports are younger and less complicated - often deeply coloured, they are revered for their sweeter grapey aromas and supple, exuberant taste. Says Symington, "There's no risk factor with port, you know what you're getting."

Warre's Otima 10-year Tawny Port, $67
Try a glass of this with a creme brulee and you will be transported straight to heaven. With a burnt copper colour, it has aromas of raisin and Christmas cake and gently burns the back of your throat.

Warre's Warrior Reserve Port, $59
Any dark chocolate dessert will taste even better, as will most cheeses or dry fruits. With aromas of cherry, nougat and herbs, it looks like French burgundy in the bottle and has a sweet cherry liqueur aftertaste.

- NZ Herald

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