Monday, January 5, 2015

A Port Preview: Ports on the Fredericksburg Wine Road 290

A new year means new adventures. One of the first is Fredericksburg Wine Road 290’s Port and Pairings on January 10th. The member wineries will pair food with their fortified wines – be it Port, Sherry, or Madeira. To make the best of the short Sunday, it is best to know what is out there and what to taste.

The Event

The 13 members wineries will provide a pairing (often chocolate, dessert, or cheese) with one of their Ports (some of the members have more than one). Some of the wineries do not have Port, so they will provide a paring with another of their wines (often a sweet wine or a red).

There is no specific extra charge, but it is not exactly free. Some wineries will offer the single tasting and pairing for free, and some will provide the pairing for free. However, most wineries will require guests to purchase a tasting (standard tasting rules and fees apply). Of those, some do make it one of the options and others make it an extra to the tasting.

Pedernales Cellars' Ruby Port

A Port Primer

Port is not just any wine. Port and its cousins – Sherry, Madiera, and Marsala – are wines that go through a fortification process. This process increases both alcohol content and residual sugar.

To fortify said wines, brandy is introduced to stop the fermentation process. In order to achieve the rich flavors, sweetness, and alcohol, port is barrel aged, often longer than regular red wines.
The ageing of Port leads to different styles. Ruby Port is a full body and rich fruit flavors. These wines are aged only a short time. Tawny Ports take quite a bit longer. They are often aged 10 years or more in oak, which leads to a smooth taste that is dominated by butterscotch and/or nuts. In Texas, most ports are Ruby; however, older wineries have been working towards Tawny ports.

There is also a range of fortified wines. Port is the most common in Texas but Madeira is a growing addition to Texas’s Port Portfolio. Unlike Port, Madeira is “cooked.” The wine is subjected to long periods of heat; a very easy thing to do for most of the year. This process takes the wine in a bit different direction compared to Port – but not that different. The most obvious difference is shelf life: an open Port can be good for a few weeks (sometimes a month), and an open Madeira can be enjoyed until it’s gone.

And the rumors are true, Portugal is seeking to have Port a term only used on wines made in the Port style, using Port grapes, and vented in Portugal. Right now the issue is complicated; a number of the names – like Porto – are only available to Portuguese producers, but Port, itself, is still in limbo. In Texas, the older producers still use the Port label; however, newer producers and newer ports are often given a different name. One of the most common right now is Portejas (Port + Tejas).

Texas winemakers have found that the state can produce great Ports and related wines. For one, many of the Portuguese grapes grow well in Texas and are often common, including Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, and Tinto Cao for the reds and Alabrino and Verdhlo for the whites. Second, Port is often a blend wine, a growing trend in Texas wine-making. In addition, Texas’s warm conditions – especially the very hot, often prolonged Summer – are conducive to making Madeira. Wine Road 290 Ports

290 Ports

Below is a quick overview of the Ports and related wines available at the Wine road 290 member wineries (and so possibly available during Port and Pairings). The wineries are ordered from West to East. NOTE: I have not tasted all of these Ports, so in some cases the information provided is that provided by the winery.

  • 2010 Yellow Parasol: Made from Blanc du Bois, this Silver Medal winning wine has sweet, creamy white notes.
  • 2008 Almagres: This is a new release made from Lenoir (AKA Black Spanish). This wine has strong red fruit notes (like raisin) and baking spice.
Port: This is a non-vintage blend with 11.2% residual sugar and 19% alcohol.
This winery’s tastings are always free.

  • Messis non-vintage: This wine starts strong but mellows into sweet stone fruits.
  • Titinia Rose: Strong floral nose and taste. The end has a warmer, sweeter flavor reminiscent of caramel.
  • Renegade (Red): Made from Zinfandel, it is currently not available.
Port: This port is primarily made from Merlot, with a hint of Cabernet Franc. The mellow 7% residual sugar leads to a lightly sweet wine that emphasizes ripe, sweet red fruits, especially cherry – rather than sugar – and a hint of baking spices. This port is more wine-like, as it focuses more on fruit flavors rather than a combination of other notes; it also ends relatively drive due to strong tannins.

  • Blanco: This popular white port is 18% alcohol and has sweet white notes, like stone fruits and nuts.
  • Port 2010: This wine is primarily made from Black Spanish, but it is blended with Touriga (which can be detected). It is 18% alcohol and 6% residual sugar with flavors of heavy dark red fruits and red wine notes.
  • Brennan Vineyards Portejas (Note: this may not be currently available.) This Ruby Cab Port has strong dark chocolate notes and winter spice. Its 19% alcohol produces a pleasant warming effect.
  • Lost Oak Portejas: This non-vintage wine is described as a balance of the flavors found in Ruby and Tawny Port.
Port: The current offering is a blend of Nebbiola, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Syrah. The nose is gentle, with soft fruit and hints of nut, but the taste emphasizes red fruits like plum with two typical port markers, caramel and nut. The strong tannins at the end make the wine less sweet.

At this time, Hilmy does not offer a Port. Erik Hilmy has considered making one.
Hilmy always makes sure to have a rich substitute wine and pairing.

  • 2012 Texas White Port: This sweet wine has light stone fruits and apples with a lingering finish.
  • 2009 Texas Ruby Port: This is Lenoir (Black Spanish) Port has been barrel aged for 4 years. Strong red fruits, like cherry, give way to chocolate and anise.
Pedernales Cellars' Texas Dulce
  • Ruby: This is a winery favorite. This wine is a blend of traditional Port grapes – Touriga and Tempranillo. This full bodied red has hints of caramel, chocolate, and nuts, but is dominated by strong, rich dried red fruit. This wine, like others, has a dry ending. 
  • Texas Dulce: Made from award winning Viognier, the wine is a golden sweet peach accentuated with toasted almond and a hint of pecan. This Port is new, from October 2014.

Currently, William Chris has two wines and they are only available at the Madeira House. Here, the Rousanne Madeira is the foundation for a number of cocktails. Be careful, they can sneak up on you.

William Chris's Rousanne Madeira
  • Roussane Madeira: This white starts with the brandy, needed to fortify the wine, and apricot, but quickly moves into a fresh shelled pecan that lingers well after tasting.
  • Black Jacque: 100% Black Spanish Madeira dominated by raisin (nose and taste). The raisins in the taste are rich and deep, sweet, red fruits. It imparts warmth.
At this time, there is no port; it is still aging in the barrel. I have tasted it twice and have noticed its development. Once it is ready, it will have rich caramel and nut notes.
For now, Hye Meadow will offer a substitute wine and pairing.

  • Rubino 2011: Made from Syrah has rich, red and light black fruit notes. This fruit forward port is not particularly sweet, as winemaker Gary Gilstrap prefers light sugar. The port ends light and pleasantly.
  • Port Blanco 2012: This estate grown Orange Muscat Port has a more refined finish than the Rubino. Like the red port, it is very fruit forward with cool citrus notes and ripe stone fruit; as it moves, the stone fruit – pear and peach – take control to round out the citrus and soften the sweetness. This port is soft with and light and smooth mouth feel.

Hill Country Ports of Note

If Port and Pairings has you craving more, a number of neighboring wineries offer Port. As they are not on the trail, a tasting fee is a required. Also, there will be no specific pairing; however, most provide dark chocolate or similar confections (Compass Rose’s Almond Toffee s amazing) to highlight the Port.

  • Decandencia: This popular dessert wine is made from Ruby Cabernet is (with some added flavors that accentuate the cherry and chocolate notes present in the Port). In the end, this seems quite a bit like a dark chocolate covered cherry.
  • Sweet Bailey Ray: At 18% alcohol, this wine is strong, but its sweetness is mild. The wine has added flavors as well; instead of cherry, this is chocolate covered orange.
Blanc du Bois Port: Dan Gaitlin is known for meticulous crafting of his wines. This white Port has hints of dried apricots and a strong sense of nuts.

Messian Hof Hill Country Port

Messina Hof has had the time to learn about and create great Ports. They currently have six ports. They differ from others because most are not fortified (the Bonariggos have found a way to create that result with just the wine). All are made from Black Spanish.
  • Texas Tawny: This wine has been oxidized to create a rusty red color (like many true Tawnys). Caramel and dark chocolate notes end with a sense of dryness.
  • Admirals’ Reserve: Made in honor of Admiral Nimitz, has a cherry nose and flavors of light cherry, caramel, and chocolate. (They consider this a cigar pairing wine.)
  • Midnight Yell: A fruit forward Port that has light red fruits and dulce de leche flavors is a great intro port.
  • Barrel Reserve: The light Ruby Port is fruity with hints of ripe cherry.
  • Hill Country Estate Port (Black Label): From 100% Hill Country grapes, this port is the only one fortified with brandy. The dry finish follows rich caramel notes.
  • Papa Paulo (Premium Red Label): This well-known Port has black cherry and earth on the nose. The flavor is tart black cherry and dark chocolate. This Port is smooth and sweet but has an earthy end.
Newly opened Compass Rose has decided to develop a Port and Madeira program; winemaker Robert Nida became fond of the styles, as well as Sherry, during study in Spain.
  • 2012 Jacquez: The Port is a soft and alluring blend of raisin and walnut notes. The Black Spanish in the Port grows less sweet and the dark red fruits dominate as the port ends dry.
  • Iron Spike: This Madeira is currently not available but has been available for tasting at special events. It is a richer, more subtle wine compared to the Jacquez, but has similar notes.
Barriques at Fat Creek

The winery has had a port program for quite a while. Port here is made from traditional port varietals, specifically estate grown Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Touriga, and Tempranillo. Then, the wine is fortified during the fermentation process and aged in barrels. A while later, the port is moved into large traditional casks – barriques – where several vintages will be combined. The traditional use of the Solero method and Portuguese grapes helps bring out common port flavors.

V: A seven years old with a nose of plum and raisins accented by nut. The taste starts sweet, emphasizing the fruit, and then softens to highlight a more delicate balance of ripe fruit and nuts.

Another experienced winery is Dry Comal Creek in New Braunfels. The winery has become known for its two ports.
  • 1096 Red Port: Made from estate grown Black Spanish, this wine is similar to many of the Black Spanish based fortified wines. This wine has strong red and black fruit and nuts (pecan and almond specifically).
  • 1096 White Port: They use their signature white grape – French Colombard – to create a more sherry like experience. The port exudes sweet candy tastes, like bit-o-honey and butterscotch.


Many dry wine drinkers are scared off of port. Many worry about the taste -- too rich, too sweet, etc. A small selection of the available Ports shows that these can be various themselves, and there are many to fit most palates. 

Others are worried about the high alcohol content. As for alcohol content, that is offset by smaller portions, which is all that is needed with such rich wines. 

Flat Creek V
 So break open a bottle, sit by the fire, and sip on a bit of Texas. Or better yet, come out to Wine Road 290 for Port and Pairings.

Note: All photos taken by Sean Tait Bircher at Wine and Savages.

1 comment:

  1. Nice preview of the event and very well researched primer on the Port status of Texas Hill Country wineries! We will see more of these wines, I think, based on interest and demand. May I add that Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg offers a 4-port sampler featuring several of the wines you reference here? It is outstanding. See you on WR290! Miguel