’Tis the season for holiday parties, big family dinners, decadent sweet treats and curling up next to the fireplace — and for many wine drinkers, that means it’s the season for port.
“About 40 percent of all our sales happen from the end of September through December,” said Lola Glossner, who owns and runs PasoPort Wine Co. with her husband and winemaker, Steve Glossner.
Almost 50 San Luis Obispo County wineries offer port-style wines at least in some vintages, though just two, PasoPort and Roxo Port Cellars, specialize in the rich, fortified wines brimming with jammy fruit, chocolate and spice flavors that pair well with dessert or sipping by the fire.
There’s little data on dessert wine consumption locally or nationally, but Glossner and others say customers seem to be finding more appreciation for the sweet, usually aged wines.
“The wineries have found an audience out there looking for an aperitif or end-of-dinner sipper,” said Chris Taranto, director of communications for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “They are also good for gifting.”
PasoPort even offers a Christmas-blend Noel port, for which Steve Glossner selects the barrels he thinks best display the aromas and flavors of the holidays. Other selections include the aged white Angelica, the primarily zinfandel-based Ruby, and Violeta, a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz and Souzão.
“Steve wanted more control over what we put in there,” Lola Glossner said. “And we had the port barrels, so now we offer port barrel-finished brandies and grappas.”
Another decade-old brand, Roxo Port, was acquired in September by Chateau Margene’s Michael and Margene Mooney, who had a long-time relationship with the brand and its owners, and aim to carry forward and elevate the label.
“It’s going great,” Michael Mooney said. “People are gravitating to it in the tasting rooms, coming in and asking about it.”
A newly released 10-year tawny port nearly sold out at a recent release party. The Mooneys plan to use cabernet sauvignon and cab franc from their newly replanted vineyard for the label’s Paso Mélange port going forward and are considering planting the Portuguese varietals used in the Ruby Tradicional.
“We think our meticulous farming practices will really benefit the ports we produce,” said Mooney, who kept the original winemaker, Jeff Steele, on as a consultant.
Glunz Family Winery, which has been in Paso for a couple of years (though the family has been in the wine business for 128 years), makes two aged ports — a tawny that’s seen 15 years in barrel, and the 25-year-old Mission Angelica, a white port rich with butterscotch and maple syrup flavors.
But the big seller at the holidays is the Vin Glӧgg, a spiced blend of port and dry red wine that harkens back to the mulled wines that Matt Glunz’s great-grandfather made for the German and Scandinavian immigrants on the north side of Chicago.
“We add cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg and orange peel, stir it every day, then bottle it,” said Glunz, who was surprised at how well the winter wine sells in California. “It’s all ready to be warmed up.”
While only a few dozen local wineries offer port-style wines at any given time, many more offer late-harvest wines, in which grapes are left hanging a few weeks longer on the vines, concentrating sugars to result in a sweet, high-alcohol wine without fortifying.
And at least one local winery uses an ancient Mediterranean method to make dessert wines. For Tablas Creek Vineyard’s Vin de Paille wines — produced when conditions and yields are suitable — grapes are laid on straw and left to dehydrate in the sun before being crushed and fermented. The result is an intensely flavored yet lower-alcohol dessert wine — the 2014 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge ($65) made with mourvèdre grapes, clocks in at 11.8 percent ABV.
“There is a purity to vin de paille wines that has more in common with ice wines than with other late-harvest styles,” Tablas Creek General Manager Jason Haas said. “Many people appreciate that after a big meal, they’re not being further weighed down with a wine that may be as much as 20 percent alcohol.”
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