Keep the cold wolf at bay

    It’s been my observation that when it snows heavily in the Finger Lakes region between the end of November and the beginning of December, we are in for a pile-up of a winter, after winter officially begins, that is!

In summer, I turn to cool drinks like wine coolers and even a shot of Campari with seltzer and lime.

In winter, I go to the hot stuff, the fortified, the almost chewy wines. I’m talking of course about Port, etc.

Recently, Robin Garr posted on his Wine Lovers Page Web site his feelings about what to do with the Port that remains after you have opened a bottle and had your fill. His remarks are worth considering—see the link below.

First, when I talk about Port I refer to the stuff from Portugal. I’ve tried a number of American Port-style wines and have never been persuaded they are worth switching from the original. The Australian stuff is ok, but again, it offers nothing special that makes me want to switch.

Second, I discount anyone who tells me that a bottle of wine that has been open for a week, stored in or out of the refrigerator, tastes exactly as it did when it was first opened. I say it isn’t possible—the only way to know for sure is to open a fresh bottle when you go back to the opened one and taste them side-by-side. People who have made the claim to me also hadn’t done the comparison, but I have.

Because of its high alcohol (18% to 20% ) Port is among the few wines that most of us purposely leave in the bottle to finish another day; those of us who go through a bottle at one sitting, well, need I say anything more about that?

In my view, that “another day” should be no more than a week to ten days away. Like any other wine, the aroma and taste of Port is affected the moment you pop the cork and the wine is exposed to a burst of oxygen. The longer it is exposed, the more it evolves. Whether the evolution is good or bad is a matter of perception, preference, and length of time resting in an open bottle.

The one thing I haven’t tried with Port, but assume would work to preserve it longer, is as soon after opening the bottle, pour half into a 375 ml bottle and cap it for another day. It works to slow down the process on table wine, so it should work on Port. I’ve never done it because of Port’s potential to cast sediment; pouring into another bottle might stir up things too much.

After a week or ten days, a previously opened bottle of Port will have changed from its original state, but mostly it will be fine. Its high alcohol content is believed to be one reason for Port’s staying power. The rest of the reasons are up for major speculation, which I am not prepared to offer, for fear of creating an argument similar to the inane arguments that ensue on some wine bulletin boards. I am content to say that Port seems to have more staying power than table wines.

Incidentally, I am partial to Late Bottle Vintaged Ports, not the least of my reasons is that it generally offers good quality/price ratio.

    Remember those old British films where the first thing offered to a guest in the living room or to a fainting heroine was a dash of Sherry drawn from a thick decanter? By the volume in many of those decanters, it was clear that the custom was to allow Sherry to sit on that mantle—even with a fire going—for weeks or months. Not bloody likely to have been a good idea!

I don’t consume much Sherry, and when I do I prefer the dry stuff, which, if I am not going to finish a bottle, I treat as a table wine: either I pour half into a 375 ml bottle or, if I have any left in the original bottle, into the refrigerator it goes. The Sherry I drink comes in at about 15% alcohol, lower than so many California so-called table wines on the market.

Some prefer sweet Sherries. Since I am not one of those people, I have little to no experience trying to save an open bottle of sweet Sherry. But I assume it is to be treated no differently than Port.

One wine deserves special mention for keeping the wolf of winter at bay: Madeira.

    No wine on the face of the earth is as pleasing to me than a glass of Madeira. There was a time, pre and post the American Revolution, when Madeira was the preferred wine in the colonies and the new nation. The preference changed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the island of Madeira was truly hard hit in the nineteenth century by powdery mildew and then followed by the phylloxera blight. Estimates I’ve read had the island suffering nearly 90% vineyard losses.

Madeira became scarce, and to a great degree, it remains that way today.

    The four ranges of Madeira, from the dry side Sercial to the truly sweet Malmsey, with Verdelho and Bual in between, leave me with a preference for Bual. I believe there are two other Madeira classifications, but those four are the backbone of the industry.

I once successfully hosted a five-course dinner that paired each course with a Madeira wine. The recipes came from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, a cookbook by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas that was based on books by Patrick O’Brian.

Like Port, Madeira is between 18% and 20% alcohol. But what makes Madeira truly special is its ability to live in an opened bottle seemingly forever.

I’ve tasted Madeira dating back to the 1950s and the late nineteenth century, from bottles that had been open for weeks. While the wines may have lost something over those weeks, it was difficult to say they had lost a lot. (The expense of the wines made impossible doing a comparison with fresh bottles!)

    Madeira is essentially pasteurized through a special heating process that keeps the wine at or above 104 degrees F. for a long period of time, its long life is attributed to that process. Apparently, there’s nothing left on which pathogens can feed.

The Madeira winemaking process gives over a purposely oxidized and cooked wine that delivers fragrances and tastes in the nut, caramel, mocha ranges. Delightful stuff.


NOTE: There’s an organization operating a blog that sells health products to consumers—it goes by the name Healthfullup. Through the RSS feed, this blog has lifted and printed my copyrighted material in its entirety from, without my permission and without paying compensation.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
December 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Comments are closed.