The perfect pairing – Port wine with savory foods

My trip to Porto and the Douro Valley in Portugal revealed a lesser-known fact:  that sweet fortified wines can pair with savory foods in new and exciting ways.  Just don’t think about Port as a really “sweet” wine, and don’t always think “red” although most Port wine is made with red grape varieties.

While Port wine is sweet, typically about 100 grams/liter, it can be lower than 40 g/l for a white Port or as low as 80 g/l for ruby and tawny Ports depending on the producer’s house style.  For example, Churchill and Cockburn make Port wines in the drier style.  In addition, despite the actual level of residual sugar, the taste of sweetness can be tempered by the fruit, structure (acidity and tannins) and/or savoriness in a well-made, balanced wine.

One of the best pairings of the savory food and Port that I experienced was at Quinta do Infantado in Pinhao.  Winemaker and Co-Owner Joao Roseira prepared a mostly vegetarian meal with vegetables and fruit that he grows on the estate grounds.

The vegetable terraces at Quinta do Infantado in the Douro Valley, Portugal

The starter was grilled zucchini stuffed three ways:  with a local cream cheese, with canned tuna and with canned mussels.  Like in Spain, canned seafood is very high quality in Portugal.  It was dressed simply, with the collected juices from the  zucchini and the seafood.  These were paired with Quinta do Infantado White Port – Dry (which in Port terms is between 40-65 g/l residual sugar) which was a completely new experience for me.  The herbaceous of the zucchini added freshness to the pairing while the richness of the tuna and silkiness of the mussel complemented the full body of the Port.   But I think it was the brininess of the seafood and the extra umami (savoriness) from the canning that dazzled the tastebuds with the Port.

Grilled zucchini three ways, all exciting in their simplicity

After all, seafood and shellfish contain high amounts of umami and Port wine does too.  The combination creates a synergistic effect that accentuated the umami experience.

For the same reason, fruity ruby and nutty tawny Ports can also pair with savory foods, especially longer-aged or age-dated tawny Ports which complement the complexity, richness and length of savory stews.  Difficult-to-pair courses likes soup find a perfect partner in Port according to Sommelier Michael Scaffidi of The Jefferson Hotel in the D.C.  This somm, who honed his tasting chops at The French Laundry, pairs Port with butternut squash soup.

Port can also be a great contrast – vs. complementary – pairing with savory food.  Ruy Brito e Cunha, formerly with the Port Institute and now welcoming guests at the family resort Quinta de San Jose, recommended to me that the classic tripe dish goes perfectly with a young, fruit-driven and powerful Vintage Port.  Tripas a moda do Porto is a long-stewed tripe dish with assorted meats, cured sausage and white beans.  My favorite, and very typical version, can be found at Abadia Restaurant in Porto’s city center.

Tripas at Abadia Restaurant in Porto

Port always complements dessert and cheese courses such as roasted chestnuts, apple tart tatin, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, fruit cake, figs, poached pears, almonds, quince paste and the Serra da Estrela DOP cheese.  But explore the gastronomic sensations of Port with savory foods!

The Port and the dry, still Douro wines of Quinta do Infantado can be found at Beltramo’s and The Spanish Table in the SF Bay Area.