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james laube's wine flights

Do People Still Drink Brandy or Port?

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 21, 2006 12:05pm ET

Time was when winter arrived and the temperatures plunged, people pulled out their long underwear and stocking caps along with their brandies and Ports.

The past few nights in Napa Valley have been frosty, icing the birdbaths and forcing the dog and cat to snuggle up tight in the fur-lined bed they share. But it's been a long, long time since I've drunk a bottle of Port or brandy—maybe 10 years.

While I like Port, especially Vintage Port, and admire its complexity and ability to age beyond a human lifetime, I've never been a brandy fan, nor have I ever warmed up to grappa, despite the fact that I once broke bread and tipped glasses with the legendary grappa master Romano Levi in his cellar in Piedmont.

So those wines have long since dropped off my list for imbibing.

Do you have wines, or spirits, that you no longer drink? If so, why?

Or, are you passionate about Port, brandy or grappa? I know there are huge fans of those beverages out there.

Peter Czyryca
December 21, 2006 12:52pm ET
I think dessert wines and port are tough to drink regularly, as one would with say Cab or Pinot. For starters, you need a pretty decent sized group to kill a 750 of Port, Sauternes, etc. So I think that has a lot to do with my lack of those bottles in my collection, simply b/c there isnt much opportunity to imbibe without wasting a lot of the bottle. I prefer to order a glass at a restaurant post-meal.
Berry Crawford
December 21, 2006 1:01pm ET
What is it about port you dont enjoy?
Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  December 21, 2006 1:02pm ET
James, about a year ago I opened - and thoroughly enjoyed (over the course of several weeks) a vintage port from Fonseca - although I can't remember the year - maybe '87 or '84. It's turned me on to the sweeter dessert wines out there, and I've now begun seeking out more Ports, and especially good Sauternes. Just had a half bottle of the WS No. 6 Wine of the Year - the Lafaurie Peyrageuy and it was marvelous. Interestingly, I used to enjoy B&B after dinner, but I had a snifter of B&B the other night and it just wasn't the same. I also used to drink more Wild Turkey, but don't drink any of the hard stuff now. Regarding wines, I drink a lot less red Zin now than I used to in the 80's - drink mor Syrah and Pinot than ever before.
Berry Crawford
December 21, 2006 1:03pm ET
Oh and to answer your question, I dont drink much Cabernet anymore. Obviously it makes amazing wines but there are only so many bottles a person can drink and I just enjoy the Pinot Noir flavor more than the Cab flavor.
Heather Morgan Shott
New York, NY —  December 21, 2006 1:42pm ET
For me, sipping a glass of Port at the end of a meal is nicer than consuming a heavy dessert. I can savor it, relax with it, and I don't feel miserably full afterwards.
Scott Young
Richmond, Va —  December 21, 2006 2:43pm ET
Peter, part of the draw to port is that you don't have to drink the whole bottle in one sitting. Port, because it is fortified and the sugar content it has, will maintain it's original flavor much, much longer than a bottle of still wine. It's not uncommon for me to have an opened bottle of port sitting on the counter for a month or more.
John Boccabella
Orinda CA —  December 21, 2006 2:48pm ET
Love vintage ports, but never understood the grappa thing, especially some of the prices I've seen out there. Must be an acquired taste.... How about your Napa desert wines? Dolce, etc?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 21, 2006 4:03pm ET
To all, it's not so much I don't like Port or Napa dessert wines, or any dessert wines. But I rarely drink them and seldom do my friends open them. Glad to hear that some of you savor a glass of Port after dinner, and of course, you're right, you can keep a good dessert wine open for days or weeks.
Dry Creek Vineyard
Healdsburg —  December 21, 2006 4:47pm ET
Not to sound all sentimental and stuff but some of my best memories with my late father involve after dinner ports. After the table had been cleared and the belt buckle loosened, port would arrive to our kitchen table. My dad would ceremoniously break out his special port glasses and we would gather around our candle light table and visit - or some nights, sit quietly. Port wasn't what eventually lured me to the wine industry but those lasting memories with my dad certainly created a soft spot in my heart for a great glass of port. Cheers, Bill
Ken Koonce
Dallas, Texas —  December 22, 2006 12:36am ET
Hmmm...port, grappa, or a great Cab or Syrah. I don't think so. The sugar is just too much. I just don't get these drinks.
Merlin
Zurich, Switzerland —  December 22, 2006 1:19am ET
James, if the reference by which you measure grappa is Romano Levi, than I understand your lack of enthusiasm. Levi doesn't drink his own stuff, because he doesn't like it, and no grappa lover does. It's just plain bad. I've never met anyone who did enjoy his stuff. It's a collector's item, nice to look at, and even better to sell, because of all the hype surrounding it. There's dozens of better Grappe out there, made by people who take pride in their work and care about what's in the bottle, not, as is the case with Levi and his hand-drawn labels, what's on the bottle.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  December 22, 2006 2:06am ET
We still sell lots of port. Mostly the 20-yr tawnies and super-rubies. I do like a bit of the Bin 27 after a long shift. An AU tawny from Yalumba (antique tawny museum rsv) accompanies creme brulee well...and a freshly decanted 94 Graham's is incredibley delicious. Oh, and we sell a fair amount of Dolce.
Filippo Recchi
Florence, Italy —  December 22, 2006 6:26am ET
I'm Italian but I've lived in the US for a few years and my experience is that the US market gets a very poor selection of grappas, and at shamingly inflated prices. Once introduced to the real thing here in Italy, my US wine buddies now ask me to bring them grappa when I visit them. Also, with few exceptions you can buy high end grappa for less than 50EUR (that would be, say, Sassicaia grappa), and also real good grappas (maybe w/o wood aging, which I don't necessarily prefer) for around 20-25EUR.

I have progressively abandoned spirts (still love single malts and calvados, but less than I used to) but after a sizable meal I'm definitely craving for a grappa!
David A Zajac
December 22, 2006 12:47pm ET
I too must admit that as much as I enjoy them, I don't drink too many, maybe a bottle every other month or so. At the rate I am going thru such delicious Sauternes, German Eisweins and trocks, Alsatian SGN's, Ports and American deserts (has anyone tried Sine Qua Non's desert wines or the Mr. K wines?), I already have a cellar full of wines that will last a lifetime.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  December 22, 2006 4:33pm ET
Maybe two or three times a year, after a dinner party, I'll have a Cognac, but never developed a taste for Port. Does anyone know if Port is still THE after-dinner drink in the UK?
Robert Stutch
NYC —  December 23, 2006 2:04pm ET
A major CA wine executive once noted after dinner, "Grappa is best used for cleaning carburetors". And he makes the stuff...

I find my Zins are getting dusty in the cellar. Just don't do what it used to for me.

I agree, for sweets, the 750 bottle seems oversized. But it is so easy to find and store the half sized. Once opened they keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. Guests always seem pleased.

D&M in SF has Cognac and Armagnac clubs that may really change your mind about Brandy. Remy Cordon Bleu now tastes like thick sugar water. I have been educated and there is no going back. These are exquisite examples of what can be done.

But when I ask my gal what she would like for a nightcap, she replies, "anything older than me".
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  December 24, 2006 2:23am ET
I agree with you 100% Mr. Laube. We have a handful of vintage Ports in our cellar, but seldom drink them. The only Ports we ever seem to open are not from Portugal. Dessert wines and Ports do seem to be more appropriate at dinner parties or a group tasting after the "main" event has concluded. I still enjoy almost everything including a good Grappa, Cognac or Brandy a little, now and then, but not as a staple. I have found one very good use for the Ports in my cellar though . . . They're great for watching Solar Eclipses through.P.S.Mr. Stuch!Your "gals" response sounds more like an invitation than a suggestion!
Alex Salomon
Paris, France —  December 25, 2006 6:55am ET


Funny thing is I have not really read comments linking food with wines. I think "we" still drink tons of Sauternes and VT and Vouvray Secs and Jurancons and Vins de Paille because "we" have foie gras, roquefort & blue cheese, desserts, caramelised food dishes (Christmas Eve dinner was foie gras, candied scallops, smoked salmon, frisee and its roquefort, creme brulee). Believe me, not a drop of the Yquem 83 and 90 was left and the Y 2000 was somptuous, too.

"We"... yeah, the pesky, nasty, sweet-toothed French and French-contaminated.Please keep on not drinking the sweet wines, keep on not reviewing them, keep them in the dark... we love them; and their prices, too.

Happy Holidays to all.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  December 27, 2006 3:49pm ET
Love Port. In my pre-marriage days there was nothing better than a nice glass of Port with a fine cigar. Now, my two humidors are filled with junk, but I will occasionally enjoy a nice glass of Port with dessert. Besides that, there is nothing better with a nice beef filet than a Port reduction sauce (easy to make and wows my guests every time). The best value Port, by the way, is the Hardys Whiskers Blake Tawny Port. I drink it or cook with it (or both)--either works for me. Oh, and the wildest Port I ever had was a 100-year old Seppelt Port we drank for dessert at our Millenium dinner. Fantastic stuff... - Jim
Alex Bernardo
Millbrae, CA —  December 28, 2006 2:50am ET
I think the reason why Port and spirits have declined is that so many wines these days have become great substitutes. Port-like, 15%-16% high alcohol, sweetish wines (posing as dry) mainly from Australia and California have proliferated. There's less reason now to go for the real thing. Be they Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir or Sangiovese (yes, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese from California are now reaching 15%-16% alcohol), Zinfandel-many of these wines have now become Port-like. I mean I find these wines more suitable to drink after meals so they've really help cut down on my consumption of Port and brandy.
Bruce Joseph
Tucson, AZ —  January 9, 2007 2:20pm ET


My wife and I enjoy a glass of port-style wine on a cool winter night. Although we both prefer a good ruby, I've found few that offer the value to be consumed as "every night" wines. We usually drink non-vintage tawnies, such as Hardy's Whiskers Blake or KWV Full Tawny.

My favorite book of all time, Robert Crichton's The Secret of Santa Vittoria mentions grappa, and because of it, I have tried grappa on several occasions, including a trip or two to Italy. I've yet to develop an appreciation of it, and doubt that I ever will.

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