By Doug Noble
Paring wine and food, if done well, enhances the culinary experience.
Normally this is done at a wine dinner or special event where several wines are paired with several different dishes. However, Paul Bush, co-owner and winemaker at Madroña Vineyards, has come up with a different idea: celebrate a specific wine for a month, feature it in the tasting room of the winery and work with the local restaurants to pair it with a dish they create.
For the month of February a dessert wine, Madroña’s New World Port, is the featured wine and it will be followed by zinfandel in May, riesling in August and cabernet franc in November.
“The basic idea is to try and educate people about wine,” said Bush. “It is also an attempt to get people to not only try our local restaurants but to linger longer and enjoy their meals; it is the difference between eating and dining.
“I was surprised and very delighted with the response from the restaurants. They had a choice of both our 2002 and 2008 vintages. They are paring a dessert dish with one or the other or, in some cases both.”
Port (also known as Vinho do Porto and Porto) is a sweet, fortified dessert wine made from specific native Portugese grape varieties harvested from the steep mountain cliffs of the Duoro River Valley in northern Portugal.
It received its name from the seaport city of Oporto (also called Porto) at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product is brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe.
One of the many stories about the creation of port wines starts in the late 1600s when because of difficulties between England and most of the wine producing areas of Europe — usually France and Spain — they started purchasing wines from Portugal.
However, they did not travel well and often showed up at their destination spoiled. To overcome this problem, the Portugese winemakers started fortifying the wines with distilled grape spirits which stabilized the wine and solved the problem.
Another version of the story says that in the late 1600s an English wine importer sent two of his sons to the Douro Valley to look for wine. They happened upon a sweet, fortified wine being made at a monastery. They liked it and had it exported through Oporto to England.
Whichever version, if either, is correct, it doesn’t really matter, because the result was a wonderful wine.
Port wines are now intentionally fortified early in the fermentation process when they are young and strong, and still have sugars that have not been converted to alcohol. The process kills the yeast, completely stopping fermentation and raising the alcohol content to around 20 percent.
In America and other countries, wines labeled port have been made for years — in California since the Gold Rush — from any number of different grapes, some Portugese and some not. It actually became quite confusing to the consumer and did not make the port producers in Portugal happy.
In March of 2006 the United States signed the “Agreement between the United States and the European Community on Trade in Wine.” One of the provisions of this agreement covered the use of the port designation on wine produced outside of the Portugal. The law change disallows the use of the port designation on any new labels. Only those that are grand fathered may continue to use this designation on the labels.
There are more than 100 different grape varieties sanctioned for port production by the Port and Douro Wines Institute, although only five are widely cultivated and used.
There are a number of different kinds of port, but the ones usually found in the marketplace are called “normal ports,” tawny, barrel aged for over six years; ruby, barrel aged less than six years, and white port.
The Madroña New World Port is a ruby style port, made from different Portugese grape varieties, all of which are grown in the Madroña vineyards.
The 2008 vintage, for example, is made of seven of these varieties: Alvarahao, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Sousao, Bastardo, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarella. It has a alcohol content of just over 18 percent, residual sugar at 9.4 percent and a cellaring potential of 10 plus years.
Just pour it
El Dorado County restaurants featuring Madroña New World Port this February include:
Annabelle’s Chocolate Lounge (El Dorado) — Medley of specialty chocolates with both the 2002 and 2008 vintages.
Bricks (Placerville) — Bricklayer’s chocolate cake with the 2002 vintage.
Café Luna (Placerville) — Chocolate port puddle cake, chocolate crême brulée or chocolate truffles with both vintages.
Heyday Café (Placerville) — Chocolate decadence cake with macerated berries with both vintages.
Independent (Placerville) — Rhubard berry crisp with both vintages.
Joanie’s (Shingle Springs) — Triple layer chocolate decadence cake with the 2002 vintage.
Powell’s Steamer Company and Pub (Placerville) — Chocolate raspberry decadence cake or fromage chauffe with both vintages.
Sierra Nevada House (Coloma) — Death by chocolate with both vintages.
Snooty Frog (Cameron Park) — Chocolate mousse with the 2002 vintage.
Each day in February the Madroña Winery tasting room will be pouring one vintage of the New World Port, components of the 2011 vintage or a vertical tasting of several vintages with cheese and chocolate.
Madroña Vineyards is located at 2560 High Hill Road in Camino. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.
For more information about the restaurants, pairings and port facts call (530) 644-5948 or visit madronavineyards.com.