Something about the cold dampness of a Florida winter makes me crave some fortified wine by a roaring fireplace, or just a few large candles. Even as we move into spring I crave some of that fortified goodness, which is that extra alcohol, since Portuguese Portos are fortified not with vitamins but with brandy. Though 2011 is a declared Porto vintage, and there are plenty of great ones with incredible scores, these youthful Vintage Portos are not ready to drink. The older vintages, if you can find them, can be prohibitively expensive, so one of my favorite Porto cheats is a Late Bottled Vintage Porto, or LBV, and one of my current faves is the Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carro 2009.
So what makes an LBV so special, besides the fact that it’s less than half the price of a Vintage Porto? The specialty is in the “Late Bottling.” Most Vintage Portos age about a year in the large cask, to then age ten to twenty or more years in the bottle. That time in bottle helps the brandy integrate with the fruity base wine, giving a more complex flavor that transcends. That time allows for a slow chemical process (that also causes Vintage Porto to throw sediment, so watch out for the chunky bits at the bottom of the bottle) that transforms the two component parts into a unified whole that has its own complex flavor profile. With an LBV, the Porto spends 3 to 5 years in large cask, and that extra cask aging, prematurely ages the Porto so that an LBV is ready to drink upon release and doesn’t need that extra decade or two of bottle aging. So a 2009 LBV has more of the flavor profile of a 2000 Vintage Porto.
Why not just drink a Ruby or a Tawny? Well, those two have a different flavor profile than a perfectly aged Vintage, which has truly become something more than the component parts (with aging). This is the magic of Vintage Porto, and why it’s all worth the wait. LBVs don’t have the tawny color of a Tawny Porto, and the flavors are like a classic Porto, with hints of dried currants and woody spice, rather than the nutty caramel and dried fig notes of a Tawny. Ruby Portos tend to be a little more like grape cough syrup, with a more obvious blackberry sweetness and not the complex aged notes one gets with Vintages. LBVs are around $20 to $30 per bottle rather than $50 to $100 for current Vintage Portos.
There are many producers of LBVs but my current fave is the Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo 2009, from a smaller Porto producer right on the famed Douro River in Portugal. The Amorin Family bought the estate in 1999, but has been a major player in the cork industry since 1870. The 2009 LBV has a 91 score from Wine Spectator and a classic flavor profile with dark plum, raspberry and dark chocolate notes. Spice and white pepper minerality show through on the finish balancing the ripe fruit flavors, and balance is the key. Look for this LBV at your local ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, or discover your own fave at your local wine shop.
LBVs pair with all the same foods as aged Vintage Portos, and of course, English Blue Stilton is the ideal cheese to match with a fine Porto, though many other cheeses pair quite well. That 18% – 20% alcohol not only warms your cockles on a blistery winter evening, but it can make your evening a little more animated. Last month I paired the Quinta Nova 2009 LBV with a game of “Cards Against Humanity” (though I would also pair it with “Apples to Apples”) and much hilarity ensued, enhanced by this delicious, sipping wine. Pop a cork and see for yourself. Cheers!