I left my valentine at home by himself for a weekend last month, while I made a quick trip to Cedar Rapids to keynote the Linn County Winter Garden Symposium. Knowing better than to return home empty-handed on February 14th, I had the perfect opportunity to pick up a gift at the new Cedar Ridge Vineyards tasting room near Swisher. After I did my turn at the symposium microphone, my adventurous Aunt Joanne and I headed out late Saturday afternoon to visit Iowa’s only winery that also is a distillery.
My intention was to choose a bottle of wine for my honey, but when I noticed that Cedar Ridge had its own port, I had to sample that as well. In the last few years, my husband has developed the habit of ordering a glass of port or sherry when we dine out. Since I rarely have an inclination for dessert–especially the huge plates that so many restaurants serve now–I have taken to ordering a glass as well. That satisfies a hankering for a bit of sweetness at the end of the meal, but doesn’t make me miserably full. So although I tasted several wines that I enjoyed, I had to give the port a go.
A quick and dirty tutorial on port: The original Port is a fortified red wine made in Portugal. Fermentation is stopped before all the grape sugars are converted to alcohol, and then brandy is added to fortify, or boost, the alcohol content. The fortified wine is then aged in barrels to become a sweet, intensely flavorful wine that is perfect for sipping as digestif at the end of the meal or any time you want to warm your bones a bit. Even though port is higher in alcohol than table wine, it seems less ‘hot’ because this style of winemaking creates a smooth, rich feel in your mouth with a lovely lingering memory in your throat. Port is made for sipping–you wouldn’t pour a full glass of it as you would table wine. That’s what makes it the perfect finish to a meal.
Cedar Ridge Lot #6 Port is made from Frontenac grapes grown at the winery, and it is fortified by brandy that is also produced there. If you’re already a port fan, you might say that Lot #6 is similar to ruby port you may have had, in that it retains much of the intense color of the red Frontenac grapes it’s made from, as well as a lot of the black currant/cherry flavor in the original wine. If you compare this port to a glass of Frontenac wine, you can see how aging and oxidation affect wine color; the deep red wine takes on an orange or golden cast. The finish of Lot #6 is short for a port, but I don’t think of that as a flaw because of the nice fragrance up front and the pleasantly smooth, richly fruity sip overall. Kolin Brighton, the winemaker and distiller at Cedar Ridge, told me that there are only a few bottles of Lot #6 left at the winery, but that Lot #7 will be released in a few weeks.
Before I left Cedar Ridge, I also sampled the not-quite-ready-yet Iowa Corn Bourbon Whiskey that Cedar Ridge will release later this year. I’m keeping my eye on that one–the taste I got on this trip was enough for me to put the July 1 release date on my calendar. I’ll not leave my honey behind for that trip.
Travel note: Consider having lunch or dinner at the Kava House in Swisher, especially if you’re available for the dinner special on a Saturday night. I cannot tell you how much it pleases me to find an independent restaurant in small-town-Iowa that is really good, charming, and deservedly busy. I wish there were more of these and fewer Subways.