As the days become shorter and we begin edging towards the marathon dinner party and feasting season that is November and December, my mind turns to after-dinner wines—bottles that are both excellent complements to the season’s many desserts and special enough to give as gifts. A personal favorite is tawny port. I love the intensity of flavors that develop after long aging in barrel and its soft, silky character resulting from exposure to oxygen over time. This style is traditionally made from red grapes, since firm tannins are necessary for the long aging process. Yet Kopke, the oldest port house in Vila Nova da Gaia, produces wines that drink like tawnies using only the traditional white grapes of the region in 10–40 year old blends. (Some of those wines are even older since these are blends of different colheitas, or years.) The wines have a profound depth and range of flavors that are perfect for fall, from nuts and spices to dark chocolate and orange rind.
Visually, it would be difficult to distinguish the older white ports from their red counterparts. In terms of color, they both brown with age, literally turning a tawny hue, although the whites retain a more golden aura. Natural acidity is the key to what makes Kopke’s white ports so unique: Balance and freshness are their hallmark, even as the flavors evolve from more approachable fruit in the 10- and 20-year-olds to the more demanding elements of the 30- and 40-year-old blends. Amazingly, they are able to maintain an essential freshness and youthfulness, while being able to withstand decades in oak.
Kopke keeps the stock in large 500-liter oak casks and bottles by demand for clients (mostly retailers, but individuals on-site are also able to take some home). There's a huge value in keeping the inventory in-house: there are fewer corked wine issues; the wine is kept in perfect storage conditions; and it ensures the wines don’t lose freshness and acidity with too much bottle aging. This makes their wines—bottled in smaller 375 milliliter bottles—a rare treat, and one that’s perfect for gifting.
Kopke White 10-Year-Old
The deep, goldenrod color reveals a rich nose full of sweet spice, preserved fruit, floral notes, and most notably preserved orange rind and nutmeg. Its freshness and minerality undercuts an oily, powerful structure.The 10-year is a blend of wines that are on average eight to 12 years old; Kopke chooses to blend wines that are closer in age in order to keep the style more consistent, and in this case, preserve more of those youthful, fruit-forward aromas. Overall it’s highly approachable and not too sweet.
Kopke White 20-Year-Old
The 20-year blend is the most deep-colored, almost like a butterscotch—after this point, the wines start to lose color again as they age further. Notes of toast, caramel, almonds, and cinnamon dominate the nose and palate, with a smear of marmalade on the finish. A rich and luscious wine, lifted by its extremely bright acidity and minerality.
Kopke White 30-Year-Old
My favorite of the range, this nose is reminiscent of cumin and Indian spices. The palate expands on this theme, tasting like a savory-sweet cardamom spice bread, with a spritz of fresh lemon juice on finish. It had my mouth-watering for a curry, since its rich texture would balance the spiciness.
Kopke White 40-Year-Old
A blend of much older wines, the nose of the 40-year-old is much more subtle and the color a golden tawny. The palate strongly shows the effects of decades in wood: no fruit, mellow spices, dark chocolate, and less unctuous. Nonetheless, it's still a powerful wine.
When in Porto & Vila Nova da Gaia, set an appointment to visit their tasting room, where you can purchase the exact colheitas you want to taste for a very individualized experience. Prices vary based on wines. Purchases can also be made online at 67wine.com and morrellwine.com.