Have you ever heard of white Port? I hadn't until recently when I saw a cocktail recipe in a magazine calling for it, along with a splash of tonic, lemon and mint. Being a red Port lover, it sounded delicious, and I was lucky enough to have a friend hunt down a bottle for me (Dow's Fine White Porto, above).
Like its red siblings, white Port is made from grapes grown in the Douro Valley region of Portugal (but they are white, rather than red) and was originally named after the seaport city of Porto where the product first came to market. This area was defined and established as a protected region in 1756, making it the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world. So it's interesting that the best known brands of Port - Dow, Cockburn, Taylor, and Warre among them - have English names. This is because the drink became popular in England in the early 1700s, when a war with France prevented them from importing French wines, while the Methuen Treaty of 1703 allowed English merchants to import Portugese wines tax-free. Many bottles spoiled during the long trip to England, so fortification of the wine was introduced to extend its shelf life.
Red Port - which is sweeter than regular wine due to a fortification process that stops fermentation and leaves residual sugar in the wine (plus a higher alcohol content) - is typically considered a dessert wine. The white, however, is a bit lighter and recommended as an apertif (in fact, the Dow's bottle suggests enjoying a glass before lunch!). We sampled it over ice and it's delicious - reminiscent of, but much lighter than, a Sauternes. The Seattle Weekly recommends some other options:
Mix white port with an orange-based liqueur like Cointreau to make a unique aperitif or ultralight version of a martini. A kir—normally white wine with cassis liqueur or syrup—is sassed up with the use of white port. More decadent and aromatic, with a little added sweetness, it'll make you forget you ever drank cosmos.
And the New York Times shared a specialty cocktail called the White Port and Peach Cobbler.
So bid adieu to Summer this weekend with a glass of white Port, and let me know what you think.