Mead On Wine

© 1996 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. H No. 48


by Jerry D. Mead

Just a couple of weeks ago I felt guilty about even mentioning holidays, and now I'm wondering if I'm going to have time to mention everything I want to for the season.


O.k., let's get the definition of Port out of the way. First off, Port is a fortified wine, which means it is enriched with brandy, which means its alcohol content is higher that regular table wine (about 20 percent for Port compared to 12 percent for table wine).

But the higher alcohol is not about getting intoxicated. Port is usually served in smaller portions, after the meal, or perhaps as a night-night beverage.

Getting on with the original reasons to add brandy; It accomplished two things. Originally made in Portugal, whose biggest wine customer was England, it was discovered that the high alcohol of the brandy helped to preserve the wine in the hot, rocking hold of a ship. And, it was discovered that if the brandy was added when the wine was only partially fermented, it would stop fermentation, leaving unfermented grape sugar and the resulting sweetness that was popular at the time (17th century).

And it wasn't just sweetness that was created, but some unique flavors from the unfermented juice.

Port as most people think of it is made from red grapes (there is White Port, too), and while it was originally from the Douro River region of Portugal, Port style wines have since been made in many nations, the U.S., Australia and South Africa among them.

So while the term Port is used in many countries (but is not permitted in the EEC unless it is from Portugal), if you see the term Oporto you know it is from Portugal.

Perhaps the most famous Port producers in America are the Ficklin family of Madera, California. At one time, they produced just about the only really classy Port in this part of the world. But like a lot of other family wineries that ruled the roost in the sixties and seventies, they got in a rut and allowed some new challengers, like neighbor Andrew Quady and the Sierra Foothill's St. Amant, among others, to make an impact by planting additional Portuguese grape varieties and experimenting with classic Vintage and other styles.

Where once Ficklin was about the only American Port I regularly recommended, they slipped in favor, with me and to some degree in the marketplace. They became that brand "we used to drink."

I hadn't even tasted a Ficklin Port in several years! Well, Ficklin is back, and they're back with special Vintage and Tawny Ports, and even the old reliable "Tinta" non-vintage Port may be the best it has ever been .

At this time of year Port is great in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee or espresso, is a wonderful warm-you-up after a day on the slopes, is the perfect toasting wine at the end of a holiday meal, and is unbeatable for having on hand to serve unexpected holiday visitors. And the traditional accompaniments are easy to keep on hand...walnuts (best when warmed) and Bleu or Stilton cheeses. Chocolate too, if its bittersweet.


Ficklin "Tinta" Port ($11) Spicy, dark, ripe, plum fruit flavor, with the beginning of complexity...perfectly balanced fruit, to sweetness, to alcohol. Not "hot" as many Ports tend to be. I really don't think you can buy a more satisfying bottle of Port anywhere in the world for less money. Rating: 88/98

Now here's something I don't usually do, I'm going to give you an old family recipe (which means I ripped it off so long ago I don't remember who from so I can't give credit and besides I've modified it).


The prunes in this dessert don't have wrinkles because they're too happy...they're smiling instead. And I don't care if you hate prunes, call them "funny fruit," or're going to love this dessert. Serve it for Christmas dinner.

Place 40 pitted prunes in a bowl and cover with two cups of Port (Ficklin "Tinta" is perfect, but any Ruby or Vintage style should work fine). Let the prunes soak in the Port for 18-24 hours at room temperature. Then pour prunes and Port into a large saucepan, add two cups of Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, 1/2 a vanilla bean and one cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce flame slightly and cook for 30 minutes, or until sauce starts to thicken.

Chill well and the syrupy sauce will thicken even more. Serve with cold thick cream, or over really rich vanilla ice cream, a steamy cup of coffee and perhaps a small glass of the same Port you used to cook with.

Ficklin "Aged Ten Years" Tawny Port ($22) This "estate bottled" wine is the first from a new solera, which should not only maintain quality but improve it with each passing year. A blend of roughly 50 percent Touriga and 50 percent Tinta Cao (my two favorite Port varieties) it is a wonderfully complex wood-aged Port. It is hard to describe the fruit of the wine. It is still in the plum range, but a lighter, more delicate plum. But that makes it sound like lighter wine and it's not. The flavors are very intense and extremely long-lasting. Compared to imported Tawnys, it is perhaps both richer and sweeter than most. A great wine. Rating: 98/85

Ficklin 1986 "Special Bottling #7" Vintage Port ($25) This is at once a serious and complex Vintage style, while amazingly youthful for a ten year old wine that has spent roughly eight years aging in bottle. More plum, and very intensely so, but that dark, red-meated plum. There is a bit more awareness of the brandy in this one, but it is still only warming...not hot. Rating: 96/84

Ficklin has broad distribution. The "Tinta"should be easy to find. The Tawny and Vintage may have to be special ordered. For nearest retail out: Ficklin, 30246 Ave. 7 1/2, Madera, CA 93637 (209) 674-4598.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value. For a reprint explaining the scoring system in depth and a pocket scoring guide, send $1 to: Mead's 100 Points, P.O. Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702-1598.


The Mead On Wine Web Page is designed, maintained and hosted by Wines on the Internet. Reproduction rights reserved.
Latest Update: December 2, 1996