Wine of the Month: Understanding Cape Port
Fortified wines in South Africa has been popular since the 1800’s when it was very much in fashion to drink in Europe. Simon van der Stel’s wine was much loved by King George IV of England, King Louis-Philippe of France and yes even the very famous Napoleon Bonaparte—who, legend has it, requested a glass of this sweet nectar from South Africa on his deathbed.
Fast forwarding a few centuries later and South Africa still makes some of the world’s best sweet wines. Everything from fortified reds to straw wines, late-harvest and botrytized, we do them and we do them pretty damn well.
Today we will be focusing on Port. But more specifically the Cape Port Family. Port is a style of wine and is classified as a fortified dessert wine. To explain what makes port special and unique, we need to understand first a few basics on the production of dry wine.
The juice is fermented until the wine is dry, which basically means that all the sugar has been eaten up by the yeast. You see wine friends, sugar and yeast are both responsible for the fermentation process and the conversion of grape juice into alcohol.
During the fermentation process the sugar decreases and the alcohol increases. Port however is much high in both sugar and alcohol, compare to you normal still wines. This is achieved by stopping the fermentation process early by adding a brandy spirit (this raises the alcohol levels).
The raised alcohol levels kills yeast, which in turn stops the fermentation process. Due to an EU agreement every port style wine bottled outside of Portugal from January 2012 may no longer bear the word ‘port’ on the label. It is the same as having the words Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy on a wine label.
Seeing that there are various styles of port, all ‘port-style’ wines originating from South Africa bear the word ‘Cape’ in front of the style.
Below is a list of different Cape Port styles you will find in South Africa along with the styles produced by De Krans, which is known for using only Portuguese grape varieties – giving you a true “port” with a South African twist.
This is for the more younger generation. This is one of the world’s newest styles of port, produced for the first time in the world by Croft in Portugal. Pink Port is a Rosé style of Port that is made by using an innovative technique which extracts fresh, fruity flavours and a subtle and delicate pink colour from limited grape skin contact.
In South Africa the first “Pink Port” was made by De Krans. As the name suggests it is of course pink in colour. De Krans achieved this by removing the skin of the grape early on in the port producing process. For a port it is relatively low in alcohol, around 16% and has fresh berry flavours as well as candy floss and a floral note. Excellent to drink in summer, serve chilled on its own or as part of a cocktail! Cellar door price: R65.00
Cape Ruby is the more traditional styles of port. Yet again, the name of the port refers to its deep ruby colour. This type of style is made from a blend of several young, full-bodied and fruity wines.
Each variety has to be aged for a minumum of six months in either wood / steel tanks. Once blended the entire blend has to be aged at least for one year in oak. The term “Cape Ruby” will appear on the label.
The result? Is a smooth, structured, velvety tannins compliment the ripe plum, blue & red berries with a touch of cinnamon spice and violets. You can enjoy this chilled on its own for the traditionalists or change your after dinner treat into a welcoming drink by adding tonic water. Cellar door price R85.00
Another great traditional style, and so named for its colour, which it owes to time spent in barrel. This wine style is made from exclusively red wine that has been aged in wood for a long enough period so it gets an amber-orange (tawny) color.
The result is a smooth and slightly nutty flavor. In South Africa it is prohibited to blend a Cape Ruby and Cape White wines to create a Cape Tawny. Besides that would be cheating. The term “Cape Tawny” will be on the label.
The De Krans Tawny has been in oak barrels for an average of 9 years! Due to this aging and slow oxidation, the tannins are soft and fruity flavours have developed into nutty, toffee and caramel flavours.
An excellent alternative to sherry. Best enjoyed chilled to lift the structure of this extraordinary style of port. Cellar Door Price R210.00
This style is produced from grapes coming from a single vintage. You will notice that the colour has a deep purple red colour, indicating to an intense, full and rich palate of red fruits, dried prunes, cocoa and spice.
Tannins in this type of style are more prominent on this port as, unlike the Cape Pink, Cape Tawny or Cape Ruby, this one is made to bottle age. Meaning that it can be kept (correct cellaring conditions) it can keep for over 20 years.
Although it drinks beautifully upon release . The Cape Vintage is very good value for money and excellent quality port!! Cellar Door Price: R115.00
This is the the ‘crème de la crème’ of port styles. Again made from a single vintage, but only the best grapes are selected, followed by a second selection process whereby only the best barrels are used to produce the final product.
Here you will find a rich and dark and full-bodied wine, with an excellent structure and bountiful concentration. In other words this type of wine will have a very aromatic nose of ripe red berries and cherries, stewed prunes and dark chocolate and has a dark black colour with plum red rim.
This style must be aged in oak for at least one year and sold exclusively in glass bottles. The vintage year will be listed on the label, along with the term “Cape Vintage Reserve.”
Due to the excellent quality it is more costly port than the Cape Vintage, but ideal for gifting for special occasions. Unfiltered and unfined, this style of port can age for 30, 40 or more years in bottle when stored correctly!! Cellar Door Price: R325.00
Well this is not really a recognized as a port style. Rather more classified under De Krans dessert wine, but is made from 2 Portuguese varieties, Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional. Here you get a gorgeous coffee, chocolate and spice flavour owed to the heavily toasted oak barrels. (Stay tuned for my Review and a lovely dessert recipe!)