Here’s a fresh look at Sandeman’s widely-available nonvintage Ruby Port, which is sold in the squat bottles labeled Founders Reserve. (We last reviewed it in 2012.)
It’s a rather alcohol-forward Port, which dulls the raisiny core more than a bit with some hospital character. Secondary notes of weak tea, rhubarb, and caramel sauce find an unhappy hanger-on on the form of some canned vegetable notes that linger on both the nose and the finish, dulling this wine’s impact.
B- / $15 / sandeman.com
Sherry is slowly making inroads into the U.S., but even those who enjoy it don’t know a whole lot about Spain’s classic fortified wine. Fortunately, our friends from Wines From Spain have put together a handy infographic outlining and explaining the six major varieties of sherry, along with general information about how Jerez (Spanish for sherry and also the name of the town nearest to where many sherry grapes are cultivated) is produced. Check it out by clicking the image to the right.
While you’re reading, here’s a look at a couple of popular bottlings of the stuff, produced in two very different styles.
Emilio Hidalgo Fino Jerez Seco – Fino is the lightest and driest of sherry styles, made from Palomino Fino grapes and lightly aged with a blanket of yeast, called flor, on top of it. In many ways this is sherry at its purest, and it’s what most people likely think of when they think about sherry. Dry to an extreme, this Fino presents notes of nuts, melon, and a bit of sea spray — in many ways it reminds me of sake, and it can be consumed in similar fashion. The finish is where things go a bit off-track for me — that dryness turning astringent, with some petrol notes overstaying their welcome. 15% abv. C+ / $16
Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez Jerez – The other side of the sherry universe, made from Pedro Ximenez grapes and ages without flor (the 1970 is just a brand name, not a vintage), then sweetened up for bottling. Deep brown/almost black in color, the Oxford 1.970 is loaded with notes of spiced raisins, coffee, chocolate, and lots of figs. A cousin to Port, it’s less brooding and more fruit-forward, those fig notes elevating the sherry into a livelier less intense experience. 17% abv. A- / $17 (500ml)
Cockburn’s Special Reserve is a widely available ruby Port, nothing fancy, but workable in a pinch. The wine offers a largely standard nose of raisins, with a bit of dried blueberry. On the palate, the wine comes across as less dense than many nonvintage Ports, a touch watery, but still full of flavor and life. Again, juicy raisins mingle with light milk chocolate notes, plus a smattering of herbs on the finish. The fade-out is moderate to short, but never unpleasant. A fine way to invest less than 20 bucks in an after dinner drink for the sideboard.
B / $18 / cockburns.com
I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on a new Madeira, amirite? OK, so this fortified wine is not the world’s hottest category, but the market leader, Blandy’s, is still innovating with the release of Alvada, a five year old blend of 50% Bual and 50% Malmsey grapes.
What’s Alvada? Per Blandy’s: “Alvada is … derived from the Madeiran word ‘levada.’ A levada is a granite channel that one finds all over the island. Exclusive to the Island of Madeira and critical to the grapes and all agriculture on the island, levadas help move water throughout the island to irrigate farmland. These levadas are still used to this very day and in total span more than 1,350 miles altogether.”
Deep coffee brown in color, with classic Madeira overtones on the nose — acidity, well-tanned leather, and prune notes. The body tells a bit of a different story, though — light for a Madeira, and quite fruity, showcasing macerated raisins and sour cherries that mingle with the nutty notes and oxidized wine characters. The finish is also light but keeps the focus on the fruitier elements. Definitely a starter Madeira, but a finer example of how enjoyable this wine style can be even at a very young age.
B / $18 (500ml) / blandy.com
With this 2009, Dow has crafted an affordable late bottled vintage port that’s perfectly quaffable right from the gate. Pure raisins on the nose, with just a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves — laced in. On the tongue, there’s pure dried berries, some caramel and chocolate sauce, and a strawberry glaze. It’s lacking the brooding depth of a vintage port, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A terrific value.
A- / $24 / dows-port.com
This Sercial bottling of Blandy’s Madeira is a 10 year old expression of its driest style of Madeira. Here it takes on notes of dry apple cider, roasted nuts, and spiced raisins. The finish has a sharpness to it — think spiked, wintry mulled wine — leading to more spicy, almost perfumed, baked apple notes. An interesting expression in comparison to the younger, drier 5 year old Sercial from Blandy’s.
B+ / $30 (500ml) / blandys.com
If you’ve ever had a glass of Port, you’ve probably had Graham’s Six Grapes, an ubiquitous Ruby Port that is lush, easy-drinking, and cheap — making it a nice choice for everyday after-dinner sipping.
Now Graham’s is giving Six Grapes an upgrade with a new special edition bottling, Special Old Vines Edition. Graham’s explains:
It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, our winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, have decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas. The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago. This wine will only be available in very limited quantities.
The wine is a winner. The intense raisin and prune notes of standard edition Six Grapes are pushed aside here to make room for more of a chocolate character. It still features classic raisiny Port notes, but in the Special Edition these take on a more gentle, less sour quality. The nose features touches of dried savory herbs, the body is laced with notes of gingerbread and cinnamon. Amazing in its depth, the wine is both fun to really dig into and explore but also incredibly easy to drink.
Only 500 cases have been made, so if this is up your alley, snap Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition up!
A / $42 / grahams-port.com