I am the world's biggest white-port-and-tonic evangeliser, and there was a time when I felt was single-handedly propping up Edinburgh's white port market, cleaning out half a dozen shops of every bottle they had over one particularly memorable weekend. I'm not averse to red port either, and for years the family had a glass every Friday evening - it's inextricably linked to my teenage memories of the beginning of a weekend.
Given how much of my life is rosé, you can imagine my excitement then at being invited to join in a pink port tasting, organised by Master of Port (no less!) Julia Scavo. She wrote up her vision of the tasting here.
Before we got to the port, we actually tasted a bunch of incredibly disappointing Provencal pink sparkling wines, as well as a brilliant rosé Champagne, and some ok pink Prosecco. We were almost pinked-out. All of them were very dry, and my go-to complaint about so many wines is that they are dry for no real reason, just as so many wines (Moravia, looking at you) are sweet for no real reason. They're unbalanced as a result, and tradition just isn't a good enough reason. The prospect of some syrupy sweet pink ports sounded wonderful - finally some wines that wouldn't be afraid of a little sugar.
And yet, as with almost every residual-sugar tasting I do, my disappointment is immeasurable and my day ruined. Inevitably, winemakers somehow forget how to balance their acidity with their sugar. Sweet white port is perfect. Sweet red port is delicious, its acidity keeping up and everything so beautifully integrated. Not so with most of these pink ports (admittedly all under €20 a bottle), whose sugar was just oozing out, unchecked by acidity or structure, and were a little sickly.
It's a wider problem with many pink or rosé wines - great estates suddenly forget how to make wine the second they're asked to ferment a red grape without its skin. How hard is it? Seriously?
Shoutout to Quevedo, for making an actually decent wine, the others, please get better:
Croft Pink Port
A tiny touch of vegetal, pepper? Much rounder, softer, creamier. More bubble gum, more reductive winemaking. Sugar more evident, pepperiness, creaminess, pot pourri, really actually very spicy, textural. As classic as a pink port can be. 4/5
Barao de Vilar Pink Port
Raspberries. A hint of oxidative. Ripe red fruit, white chocolate, vanilla, much more toned down portlike aspects. Still very nice. 4/5
Quevedo Pink Port
Quite bready, still has lots of sugar on palate but with a slightly bitter acidity. Much more balanced, integrated. The first port today that is actually drinkable and gluggable. Would drink for most if not all afternoon. Very nice. Good acidity. Lovely, maybe bitter cherry? I think the only one of the flight to use Sousão in the blend, to be confirmed (as well as Tourigas Franca and Nacional). 5/5
Dows Pink Port
Much lighter in colour. A touch of asparagus. Otherwise very restrained. Much leaner, more tannic, spicy, vegetal, meaty. Much more pleasant, but still a high 3/5, low 4/5. Very meaty.
Dalva Pink Port
Fairly bruised apple, artificial strawberry, raspberry. Much better acidity, much less heavy, really piquant on body, alcohol much more evident. Cherry. Creamier. High 3/5
Cruz Pink Port
Creamy, strawberries and cream. A little artificial on the nose. Very portlike, a little steely, more cream, medicinal, a little vegetal. Cherryade, drpepper, picon, bitters. Sugar a little heavy, not quite the acidity to lift it. Pleasant enough, nothing special though. 3/5
You might of course note that despite my incredibly harsh criticism of the sugar and its integration, I've rated all of these very highly. That is generous of me. Some of them actually merit a 1 or 2/5, but this is such a young category and style, operating without centuries of experience, that all things considered they weren't awful. None of these wines (except the Quevedo) will find a home in a serious wine list or on a serious shelf, but given their intended market (I suspect) of attractive wine-illiterate bikini-wearers who want an ultra-sweet 18% pink tipple, they hit the nail on the head pretty well, and for a reasonable price. In a few years, I hope they'll realise that this is not an appropriate market for a serious port house, and they'll reconsider.
In the meantime, I can think of plenty of people who will happily buy these, and be very happy with them, and it's a great 'easy' entry into better-made ports. And in a few years, who knows, maybe winemakers will remember how to make decent wine of all colours?