What do you think of when you think of port? Maybe you think to yourself, “Well, I know I’ve heard of it before, and I know it’s sort of like sherry, but….”
If that sounds like you, don’t feel bad. I asked the same thing last week when we visited a secret little gem in the Petaluma Foundry Wharf, down by the river. That’s where you will find Sonoma Valley Portworks, otherwise known as SVP, a small port, grappa and after dinner wine business co-owned and operated by Bill Reading. Bill met us at the door. He’s a tall, silver haired gentlemen with a disposition as sweet as his chocolate infused Deco, one of the first ports he shared with us. But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Bill,” I said in my best “I’m going to ask you a really stupid question and I’m hoping you don’t laugh at me” voice, “What exactly is port?”
“Glad you asked,” Bill replied, and you got the feeling he genuinely was. You see, Bill loves what he does. He loves port. He loves making the best port he can make and he loves talking about port to anyone who will listen. Several times during the conversation he apologized for “getting on his soap box” but I didn’t mind. This guy loves what he does and that, for me, was at least part of the charm of the place. The other was some unbelievably good port.
Port, it turns out, is similar to sherry. It’s a fortified wine that’s sweeter and higher in alcohol content than table wine. The process for making port (or sherry) is similar. The fermentation process is stopped about a third of the way, capturing the residual sugar (sweetness) and then brandy is added to enhance the flavor thereby also increasing the alcohol content. And, it may not be surprising to you although it was to me, port gets its name from Portugal, which is where it was first created.
Bill didn’t go to school to study wine making. Rather, it is a labor of love for him. He worked in the wine business for many years and learned through paying careful attention, asking lots of questions and knowing what he liked. He likes to think “outside the box”, trying new blends and experimenting with new flavors. Through all this, he and his team have created some dessert wines that are some of the best in the industry.
There was tasting, of course and here’s where I got a bit nervous. Don’t get me wrong. I like wine as much as the next guy (or gal) I just feel a bit insecure “talking” about it. I didn’t grow up in California so the language of wine is a bit foreign to this Jersey girl. Ask me to talk about tomatoes and I’m fine. But wine? All those terms get my brain in a jumble and I am convinced that the moment I open my mouth to comment I’m going to sound like a real idiot.
No need to worry. Bill put me right at ease. “What do you taste?” he asked.
“Chocolate.” I replied.
“See,” he smiled back, “It’s not so tough after all.”
And from that moment on it was smooth sailing. We sampled several of their wonderful wines each with a bite of food designed to enhance the flavor. We started with two ports, Deco, which he paired with cheesecake and Maduro, (eaten with blue cheese) a caramel tasting port that was lighter than the Deco and really delicious. Next up was Duet, served with a bite of nut torte that had the flavor of hazelnut. Major yum! Last but not least, we sampled a sweet, syrupy balsamic vinegar which, I kid you not, you could eat with a spoon.
I have my favorite and I’m sure you’ll have yours. If you’re out looking for a hostess gift this season or want to bring out a real treat on Christmas Eve while you’re busy wrapping those last few presents, think about a bottle of some of our very own Sonoma Valley Port. You can find them at 613 2nd Street in the Foundry Wharf, Petaluma, CA or you can buy their products online at http://www.portworks.com.