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When you want a break from complicated cocktails, white port makes an impressive apéritif. 

White is Right

While it's true that grown-up cocktails are enjoying a renaissance(Cosmopolitans, caipirinhas and mojitos, to name a few ), there are times when exotic mixtures just seem too complicated, too sweet, or too fussy — the Pomegranate Margarita garnished with sugared rose petals in Martha Stewart's "Hors d'oeuvres Handbook," for example. Puh-leeze! Occasionally, a simple apéritif — such as Campari, Pimm's Cup, Lillet or Cinzano — is a more satisfying way to go. There's good reason why these beverages have been popular for quite some time: they're clean on the palate, flavorful, and complement an array of pre-dinner snacks that might overpower dry white wine or Champagne.

White port ranges from tart and dry to off-dry to very rich and sweet. Off-dry and dry white ports are the ones to pour as apéritifs. They're delightful chilled, straight up, on the rocks, splashed with club soda or tonic water. A garnish of lemon or orange enhances the vibrant, spicy flavors.

When shopping for white ports, look for the words, "dry" or "apéritif" on the label. (There is also a category of white port called "light dry" — leve seco in Portuguese — which is not just dry, but is lower in alcohol than other white ports.) Once opened, a bottle of white port will last several weeks, and since white port has an assertive, complex taste, a little goes a long way. It is, indeed, meant for sipping.

White port is made like regular port (partially fermented wine is mixed with brandy), but it is, of course, made from white grapes. Most well-known port houses make white port; a very good one available here in town is from Churchill's ($18.99). It's clear amber in color, and has a tantalizing nose filled with aromas of dates and raisins. Smooth and generous on the palate, it has excellent structure, making it an impressive and refreshing apéritif, indeed. Serve white port with salted, toasted almonds (a traditional Portuguese hors d'oeuvre), olives, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, wedges of Spanish potato tortilla, fried shrimp or
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