Just over a year ago a simple offering from a gentleman enlightened me. It was a most pleasant surprise, one that profoundly changed my dated opinion regarding port style wine. Until that moment, my one and only prior experience of trying port was at a wine tasting course in college–an experience that wrinkled my nose. But that was 1982 and I was very green about many things. Looking back I can honestly say that about myself now, being green, because in ’82 the notion of being naïve wasn’t on my radar and I thought I had the world by the tail. Oh to be a twenty-something.
The gentleman was Tyler Grace, the winemaker at Grace Patriot Wines. I was visiting the family winery on assignment for the Folsom Telegraph working this story. Tyler hosted a flight of their Estate wines pouring me one taste after another in perfect sequence from white to red. I distinctly remember the moment: The last of their bold reds had been sampled. Looking up from my tablet where I had just scribbled some tasting notes, the knowledgeable viticulturist asked, “Do you like port style wine? I have some casking in the back, it’s not bottled. You’re welcome to try it.” I caught his eye and the 22-year-old in me then replied, “I’m not particularly fond of port.” But there was a measure of confidence in the way he spoke, like the magician who has one last doozy of a trick up his sleeve. The eyes looking back at mine were trusting eyes. In a flash of objectivity my journalistic instinct regained the upper hand, and in less than a heartbeat I added, “However I’m intrigued. Sure, I’d love to sample a taste.”
Two quick doorways led us from the tasting room to the cellar where racks of stacked barrels towered overhead. In a matter of moments Tyler had gathered stemware and tools to siphon a sample of wine. It was surreal, like one of those slick industrial videos showing a wine barrel tasting. The winemaker coaxed the bung (the cork or rubber stopper that plugs the hole at the top center of the barrel) from its resting place. He dipped the siphon and swiftly delivered a nice taste into each glass.
As I drew the glass up for a taste, the nose of the port style wine hinted at the richness to come. Upon that first sip my brow instantly shot up in surprise. The wonderful flavors I experienced peeled away years of discounting the varietal. Yes, the wine was sweet–a particular quality I seemed to not like 30 years prior. But what enamored me about this libation was that it conjured up shades of berry, pepper and black currant, the bold flavors I had come to know about Grace Patriot wines, harmoniously melded with the sugar content into a delicious mouth feel.
The first question I asked Tyler was if he was intending to release the wine. He assured me it would be bottled in the future. I thanked him for sharing his work in progress and made it clear that I was duly impressed.
A year later, this past October, my family and I visited the Grace’s at their winery during a shopping trip for holiday wines. It was a terrific afternoon in the company of vintner Steve Grace, his delightful wife Bea and their youngest son Trevor, brother to Tyler. It was thrilling to see their business flourishing, earning well deserved accolades placing the winery as a destination Estate in the El Dorado appellation. My biggest thrill, however, was to see the release of their ‘Season Finale’ dessert wine–the very wine I was privileged to sample over a year ago.
Somehow, though, I suspect the wine from the barrel wasn’t the only thing to mature over time.
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light
Another great use for these Sugared Cranberries can be found here.