HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Whitley On Wine

Wine Review Online Radio

W.R. Tish

Leslie Sbrocco

International Wine Center

The Great Wines of America

Wine Style Book

Gold Medal Wines

New York Times 'The Pour'


Critics Challenge

San Diego International


WRO Wine Blog

August 30, 2023

The World’s First Port House

In 1638 a variety of notable events occurred around the world.  To put a bit of historic perspective on the era I offer here a bird’s eye view of a handful of different global happenings that took place 1638:

*The birth of Louis XIV on September 5.  He would grow up to be one of France’s most important kings.

*The founding of the colony of South Carolina (Virginia, America’s first colony was founded in 1607).  

*The capture of Bagdad by the Ottoman Empire on December 25.

*On Feb. 22, the death of Santorio Sanctorius, the Venetian physician who invented the thermometer.

*April 24, 1638 marks the beginning of the settlement of what would become New Haven, Connecticut.

*In 1638 the first bottles of Port wine were shipped northward from Portugal by Nicolau Köpke.

While each of these events was significant in its own way, my focus here is on Köpke, the world’s oldest Port house. Its founder, Nicolau Köpke, was the Consul General of the Hanseatic League, a German organization devoted from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries to developing and protecting European commercial activities including exporting wine.   

During his tenure with the company Köpke, who had gravitated from Hamburg to Portugal, fell in love with Port Wine and ultimately began producing it himself.  After purchasing a farm in the Douro, Köpke shifted his attention from buying wine for resale to producing it, with Port Wine eventually becoming the house’s primary enterprise.  In 1922 Köpke’s company acquired the magnificent Quinta de São Luiz, a property that became the site where all Köpke DOC Douro wines are still produced.  The beautiful estate is located in the Upper Douro region, the oldest demarcated and regulated wine growing region it the world. It is also a UNESCO Word Heritage Site.  Today, three centuries after Nicolau Köpke first sailed into Portugal, his descendants are still involved in the Port business.  In 1841 they changed the family name to C.N. Kopke.

Portugal’s Douro Valley, the longtime home of the country’s Port industry, runs from the city of Oporto to the Spanish border.  Vintage Port, which is the most expensive and most prestigious of the Port range is created from the fruit of a single, exceptional vintage.  It spends one year in a barrel before being bottled.  Powerful and rich, Vintage Port is comparatively rare as it made only in the very best years.  If the Port is less than 40 years old it should be opened and decanted two or three hours before serving, or for older vintages 30 to 60 minutes before serving.

Tawny Port comes in four different ages:  10 year, 20 year, 30 year and 40 year.  The ages refer to the length of time the wine spends in a barrel before being bottled.  That time in bottle oxidizes the Port, rounds out the flavors, and gives it a darker color the longer it ages.  In a recent Port tasting I was drawn to the Kopke 10-year-old Port whose pleasing and complex flavors of caramel and dried fruit I particularly liked, along with the suggestion of cherry hugging the palate on the finish.  I was likewise impressed by the Kopke 20-year-old which offered a similar palate that also emphasized dried fruits, especially figs.  Sharing the wealth of flavor in the previous vintages the 30-year-old Kopke underscores even more the spiciness and herbaceous character of the Port, with the 40-year-old notching up the range of flavors with hits of balsamic, chocolate, coffee and caramel, all of it embraced by lovely acidity on the finish.

Colheita is tawny Port made from a single harvest and aged in wood for a minimum of seven years.  Some Colheitas may spend up to 20 years in that same barrel (the word “colheita” means “vintage”).

Ruby Port, which is younger, fresher tasting and less complex than Tawny or Colheita, is also generally lighter in color and brimming with sweet fruity flavors.  Brandy or other fortified spirits are added to the Ruby’s grape must, which helps preserve the fruit’s sweetness and increase its alcohol content.  It is then aged in oak barrels for 2-3 years before being bottled. Ruby Port and Colheita Ports do not need to be decanted.  Like all Ports, however, they do need to be tried by all who love wine  If you have yet to experiment with the various types, it is true by definition that you don’t know what you’re missing…and to my taste, you are missing a lot of deliciousness!
Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 2:31 PM

August 16, 2023

Welcoming John McDermott to Wine Review Online

Along with my colleagues at Wine Review Online, I’m delighted to welcome John McDermott to our ranks.  He started up last week with a set of six reviews, with a column up this week, and you’ll find his recommendations virtually every Wednesday going forward on the WRO “Reviews” page.  As a columnist in our rotation, you'll see additional articles from him on a regular basis going forward.

John has dedicated over a decade to the rigorous study of wine, combining both formal education and informal exploration.  His wine education journey began at the Cape Wine Academy of South Africa, and more recently, under the auspices of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET).  

While John is currently an attorney for a large technology and social media company, he spent years working in wine sales, gaining an understanding of consumer trends first-hand.  John loves wines of all types and is always looking for something new to try, but he frequently returns to mature classics from Rioja, Barolo, Bordeaux, and the Loire Valley.  John enjoys traveling to wine regions across the globe, and he has explored wineries throughout South Africa, Italy, France, and the U.S.

In his down time, when John is not exploring new wines, he is a volunteer for the Heart’s Delight Wine Tasting & Auction, one the preeminent wine events in the U.S., held annually in Washington, D.C.

As I was working with John to gear up for his debut with us, I asked him for a very informal rundown on his love affair with wine so that I’d have a bit more material to work with when introducing him to our readers.  I felt a bit bad about asking more of him when he’d already submitted a sample column for me to consider as well as some reviews, so I told him he could save time by just shooting some additional information—even just as “bullet points.”  Well, what he sent was so well written and engaging that I’m going to simply post it here, effectively letting John introduce himself.  

But before turning him loose, let me just say that:  This guy can write.  John's “sample column” was so well done that I asked him to join us immediately after reading it, and it won’t be a sample for long, as I’ll gladly publish it with virtually no editing.  Similarly, what appears below has barely been touched since it left John's keyboard.  So, keep an eye out for all of his future contributions to Wine Review Online, because lots of people love wine—but very few can recount their wine romances compellingly!

*          *          *

"I didn’t grow up around wine at all.  My first introduction to wine was while studying abroad in college.  I was studying international justice in Stellenbosch, South Africa and learned that I could take a wine appreciation course for college credit.  Being only 20 years old at the time (and below the legal drinking age in the US), the prospect of earning college credit for drinking alcohol was an enticing proposition, and the sole basis upon which I enrolled in the class.

A few weeks into my course, knowing only enough to be dangerous, I stopped by Cederberg Winery while hiking in the surrounding mountains, about 3 hours north of Stellenbosch.  While there, I sat for a tasting that included their Sauvignon Blanc.  It was nothing special in the grand scheme of things, but I’ll never forget the distinct aroma of green bell pepper in that wine.  It was the first time I had ever discerned a scent in a wine, other than “wine.”  I was still very new to wine at that point, but I knew that the glass in front of me contained nothing but fermented grape juice, and something inside of me needed to know how that fermented grape juice led to me smelling green bell pepper.

That one experience sparked a curiosity in me that continues today.  After that, I began taking my wine course much more seriously.  I began scouring local bookstores for books on wine and read everything that I could, including Oz Clarke’s “Grapes & Wines”—a book that was surely intended as a reference tome, but which I read cover to cover that semester.  I passed my course with distinction, earning a certification from the Cape Wine Academy in the process.  When I got back home from South Africa, I went to every wine shop in town, seeking someone that would hire an almost 21-year-old college student.  Every single shop I went to said no, except for the very last one, where the owner told me to come back in a month, when I’d turned 21…and that a job would be waiting for me then.

The job didn’t pay much, and offered no formal benefits, but I was allowed to taste for free anything on the store’s Enomatic® wine dispensing machines.  Once a week, the store would also do a live tasting event, and my boss allowed me to take home anything that wasn’t empty at the end of the day.  I particularly remember being able to take home quarter-full bottles of Opus One and Dunn Howell Mountain on separate occasions—a treat for anyone, but especially for a lowly college student.

I continued working in that wine shop all through college and law school.  And though I stepped away from the trade after that, I continued reading and studying wine in my spare time.  Of the various wine writers I’ve read over the years, Jancis Robinson and Rajat Parr have probably had the largest impact on me.  Jancis’ wine reviews, which are both engaging and direct, serve as a style that I try to emulate.  And Raj’s “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste,” which I find unparalleled in its depth and approachability, was critical to building out my understanding of terroirs around the world.

As an aside, once I finished law school, I became a corporate litigation attorney.  I loved litigation because it gave me the opportunity to write legal briefs.  Crafting written arguments was what gave me the most satisfaction as an attorney.  I’ve more recently transitioned to a role as an attorney working on internal investigations for a large technology and social media company.  While I’m very happy with my job (and the much better work-life balance it provides), there are no opportunities to write in the new post.  Because of this, I’ve been looking for a writing outlet for some time, and I’m truly thrilled to get to combine my love of writing with my long-time passion for wine when contributing to Wine Review Online."

Posted by Michael Franz at 6:54 PM