“You just haven’t met the right one.” That’s what I used to tell myself every time I tried a white port. I was eager, willing, and always disappointed.
Until I tasted a Kopke White Colheita 2007.
Boy, what a revelation. I had become habituated to bland, characterless white ports, the kind routinely served to the thousands of tourists who flock to the quayside port lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia, across the river from Porto, Portugal.
(Granted, the rubies and tawnies served at the conclusion of these mass-tourism tours are pretty insipid as well, being the Port houses’ entry-level products. You have to make private appointments to get the good stuff, which we routinely do on our DOURO VALLEY tour.)
Instead, Kopke’s amber-hued version is layered and seductive, an aromatic bundle of brown sugar, crème brulee, hazelnut, and lemon peel, with just the right balance of sweetness and acidic lift. Nothing cloying here. Nor is this a white port you’d ever want to mix with tonic water, the way the Brits do with lesser versions.
I was happy to see some old friends there, like Quinta do Passadouro, Wine & Soul, and Quinta de Chocapalha, all linked in one way or another to the Douro power couple Sandra Tavares da Silva and Jorge Borges, superb winemakers both. I also made some new acquaintances, like the Alentejo winery Alexandre Relvas, whose amphora-aged Art.Terre Amphora Red jumped out with its unique flavor profile, an explosion of blueberry fruit.
Among the handful of Ports, I fawned over Quinta do Vallado’s 20-Year Tawny—as good as it gets—and nearly fainted when I spotted the 1986 Vintage Port from Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta de Vargellas, which was aged to perfection.
But the revelation was Kopke’s White Colheita. (The term colheita—pronounced col-YAY-ta—simply means ‘harvest’ and is used when a type of Port that’s normally a blend of years is instead a single vintage, and—with tawnies at least—is aged for at least seven years in wooden barrels.)
Kopke, established in 1638 by a German entrepreneur, is one of Port’s oldest firms. It’s known for its tawnies and colheitas (with stocks going back to 1938). And it’s always such a treat to visit their tasting room in Vila Nova da Gaia, where you can sample a deep library of older vintages by the glass. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that they also work their wood-aging magic on white port.
Most white ports sit in cement or stainless steel vats for 18 months before release. Instead Kopke’s white colheita stays seven years in wood, just like a tawny colheita. Inside the barrel it takes on a nutty, oxidized character that give it a kinship to tawnies, but with a base of white grapes rather than red.
According to Richard Mayson’s Port and the Douro—essential reading for any Port lover—there aren’t too many firms that bother to make a wood-aged white port, in part because most believe the Douro’s native white grapes don’t have as much personality as the reds. In addition to Kopke, the echelon who make this rare category include Churchill’s (aging it 10 years in barrel), Niepoort (also 10 years), Quinta de la Rosa (2–3 years), and C. da Silva, a firm known for its coheitas, offering a family of age-designated white ports ranging from 7 years to 40 years in oak.
Bottom line: I have yet another good incentive to return to the Douro.
But you can find the Kopke 2007 stateside as well. It retails for about $65 and is distributed by Wine in Motion [contact email@example.com; their new website will be live in January].