Since I am convinced that no one can have too much port, I want to discuss the virtues of investing in vintage ports. The English (mostly the affluent ones) established a custom in the 1700’s of laying up a pipe of port (roughly 48 cases) to be given to each newborn son on reaching majority. Therefore, it would have 20+ years to age and be a start to his own wine collection. Nice custom if you ask me, but too bad for me, I’m not English. The English also established rules and rituals to be followed in the proper partaking of port. For the English, it was much more than merely sipping a drink.
Originating with the British Navy, the custom is for the host or person providing the bottle to fill the glass of the person to his right then pass the port to the person to his left. This process is repeated, with the person pouring for the person to his right, until the bottle makes it all the way around the table. However, if the bottle should become delayed by a person forgetting to pass the port, there is a ritual to follow to remind the person to pass the bottle without being of ill manner oneself. The fellow to the left of the person delaying the port simply asks the person, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”, instead of asking directly, which would be considered rude. This will usually jog the person delaying the port to pass it along. But, if the person is not familiar with the etiquette of Port drinking and says no, then the person asking the question will continue with, “he’s an awfully nice fellow, but he can never remember to pass the Port.” This will get the Port moving again without any embarrassment.
Another thing that I like about the English and that I try to practice, is they have a tradition of not leaving the table until the bottle is empty. Sometimes this can take awhile depending on how many are around the table. But, that can be a good thing in this fast paced world of ours. It would be considered very ill mannered to gulp down a Port and leave. It is meant to be sipped; thereby, forcing you to sit and spend time with friends sharing the bottle. And it has a very relaxing effect. Remember, most Ports are around 20% alcohol.
Next time you have friends over try bringing out a bottle of Port after dinner and you will be amazed at how warm and charming the evening will become. I’ve even found that some of the ladies like Port, as much as the gentlemen. Especially, when you pair the Port with some dark chocolates or chocolate covered strawberries. Yum! Yum!
If you will recall from my previous articles on Ports, there are several types. I’ve mentioned vintage and LBV ports, which are more fruity than a Tawny Port. The Tawny has spent more time aging in the barrel before being bottled, which gives it more exposure to oxygen. Thus, the paler color (brown instead of ruby). The description I hear most often is that the Tawny tastes “hotter” than the other Ports; even though, its alcohol content is the same. I attribute this to fact that the wine has been oxidized, which softens the fruit characteristics and enhances the taste imparted by the barrel. If you’re shopping for a Tawny, you will find them labeled anywhere from 5 to 40 years old. This refers to the number of years the wine has spent in the barrel before being bottled. I find that the barrel characteristics are more pronounced the longer the wine has been aged in the barrel.
Therefore, if you’er looking for a Port that imparts more of the wood, smoke, and char tastes of barrel, then go for the older Tawny ports. I recommend that you start with Fonseca’s 20 year Tawny Port, which is moderately priced. You should be able to find it at your local retailer for under $50. If you’re new to Port, I recommend that you start with a Ruby. Dow’s Fine Ruby or Graham’s Six Grapes are a couple of my favorites and you should be able to find both for under $20.
There are some very nice, reasonably priced vintage Ports available, so if you have a newborn (or maybe not so new born) son, do him a favor and follow the English tradition. Even if you can’t afford a Pipe of Port, lay up a few bottles for him. I can hear my daughter now, “What about me?!!!” Well, you haven’t done so bad. Have you?
Until next time, CHEERS!