Port is not just for Christmas

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday October 15th, 2016

When you think of port, do images of fusty old colonels, and posh Downton-style dinner parties come to mind? Or maybe mince pies and roaring fires? Not the kind of images that are likely to appeal to a generation of new wine drinkers. Yet port has been enjoying huge growth in the US over the past decade – but a very different kind of port and with a much younger audience.

This time it is aged tawny port, served chilled, and with a whole range of dishes; cheese of course, but also with many desserts and even with fish and meat main courses. Tawny port doesn’t require decanting and will keep for a few weeks once opened. One export manager I talked to had arranged for massive double magnums of 20-year-old tawny port to be plonked on the bar in restaurants and bistros and then challenged sommeliers to pour from it, creating a bit of fun and theatre. Another sales manager told me: “Tawny port has got barmen and sommeliers back to playing with port again.”

Tawny port is aged for long periods in barrels – sometimes up to 100 years or more – at International Port Day recently, I tasted a tawny dating back to the 1860s. It develops a burnished pale brown colour and flavours of toasted nuts, figs and caramel. Ten-year-old is good (all ages are average) but 20-, 30- and even 40- year-old tawny can be sublime.

Also in fashion is white port, this time mixed with tonic water. Mix two parts tonic to one part port, add plenty of ice, and a slice or two of orange or lime or a sprig of mint. A very refreshing cocktail, the sweetness of the port working perfectly with the dry tonic.

Many port companies have started making red and white table wines in the Douro Valley (the birthplace of port) too, something unheard of in the past; already this accounts for 30 per cent of production.

Can they take all this innovation too far? Well, I found it difficult to like the Croft Pink Port (yes, rosé port) but apparently it is going down a bomb in SuperValu at the moment, so who am I to disagree?

I still have a great love of bottle-aged ports, with their dark damson fruits. A late bottled vintage is less expensive and requires no decanting, but possibly the best value lies in single quinta ports, made in years not quite good enough for a vintage declaration. Taylos Quinta de Vargellas (€64.95, the Corkscrew) is one of the best, but there is plenty of choice.

Whatever port you decide to drink, serve it in a decent wine glass; those tiny little schooners do no favours to any wine, port included.

ImageNiepoort Dry White Port

Toasted nuts and herbs with a rich finish. Serve with tonic water.

64 Wine; Red Island; McHugh’s; Redmond’s; Corkscrew; Jus de Vine; Martin’s; Clontarf Wines; Liston’s; Grapevine; Blackrock Cellar; Morton’s Ranelagh

DSCF6993Taylors LBV Port 2011

Rich, sweet plum fruits, dark chocolate, some Christmas cake spice, liquorice and a finish that is attractively savoury and long.

Stockists: Widely available including Corkscrew; Le Caveau; Bradley’s, Cork.

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Graham's 20yo TawnyFigs, raisins and caramel with a twist of orange peel.

Stockists: Mitchells; Clontarf Wines; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry.

Posted in: Irish Times

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