Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Cockburn’s​ ​Special​ ​Reserve​ Port: Break Out The Cheese, Chocolate & Twizzlers

"A major turning point for port came when Guy Ritchie’s father John, Madonna’s ex father-in-law, and a partner in Cockburn’s advertising agency, launched Cockburn’s Special Reserve in a television advertising campaign at Christmas 1969. Success was immediate and Cockburn’s became brand leader overnight."
--Real Men Drink Port…and Ladies Do Too! by Ben Howkins

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Cockburn's Port Special Reserve, a Port wine that was revolutionary at its inception. The history of Cockburn's itself extends back over two hundred years, to 1815, when the company was founded by Robert Cockburn and his brother John, both from Scotland. They were successful wine merchants in England and established a brand of their business in Porto. Over thirty years later, in 1848, the Cockburns partnered with John Smithes, who helped to make Cockburn's a well respected Port house.  In 1962, Cockburn’s was purchased by Harveys of Bristol and later was sold to Beam International. Finally, in 2010, Cockburn's was acquired by Symington Family Estates.

For a time, Cockburn was the largest Port shipper into the United Kingdom market with their Fine Ruby Port, and then in the 1970s, their Special Reserve became the best selling Port brand. The Special Reserve was the first of its kind, and it wasn't until 2002 that the authorities authorized a "Reserve Port" category. Though the definition is a bit broad, most Reserve Ports can be considered to be higher quality Ruby Ports, and they must be approved by the Câmara de Provadores (the tasting panel of the IVDP). Cockburn's though still maintains a trademark on "Cockburn’s Special Reserve".

Cockburn’s​ ​Special​ ​Reserve​ Port ​($18)​ is made from a blend of some of their best grapes, such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, from their vineyards at Quinta dos Canais. These excellent vineyards encompass about 240 acres and has been a part of their company for well over 100 years. The grapes are foot trodden, a traditional practice that has almost vanished on the Douro region, with about only 1% of all Port production conducted in this manner. The wine will age in seasoned oak barrels, created by their own coopers, and it will mature for a longer period, about five years, than many other reserve Ports.

This is intended to be an easily approachable and value Port, and I agree that it fits those intentions. With a rich and dark red color, the Port has an appealing nose of red fruits with a hint of spice. On the palate, it is smooth and elegant, with delicious flavors of plum, black cherry and strawberry up front. There is a spicy undertone, especially on the long finish. The tannins are well integrated and it is far more dry than sweet, a pleasing and easy drinking Port that is perfect for the fall and winter. During the summer though, it is said you could serve this lightly chilled. And if you open a bottle, it should remain good for about six weeks.

The Port will pair well with various cheeses, especially blue cheese, and would also go well with various chocolate desserts. It was also suggested to me that the Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port would pair well with Twizzlers candy, with the bright fruit of the Port matching the red fruits of the Twizzlers. I like Twizzlers so I had to buy some to try this intriguing pairing. Sure, purists might look askance at even attempting such a pairing but I'm open to thinking outside the box.

Initially, the red fruit flavors of the Port and Twizzlers complemented each other, though the Port added a pleasing, spicy element to the finish, helping to mute some of the sweetness. It isn't a pairing I might frequently partake, but it was fun and created something tasty and different.

At less than $20, this is an excellent Port, offering plenty of complexity, flavor and quality at this price point. I like its style, being more dry than sweet, with such bright red fruit flavors up front. With fall here, and winter coming, this is a very good choice to help warm those chilly evenings, and to pair with dessert. The next time you shop at your local wine store, look for Cockburn's Special Reserve Port.

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