I admit, I don’t know much about port, other than I’ve longed to say “a drop of port” for three months now. The drink sounds so rich, velvety and delicious. I plan on serving it to my brother, his wife and another couple when they arrive for Thanksgiving next week.
To get the most enjoyment out of this old-timey sip, I enlisted the help of Chuck Smith, owner of my favorite wine shop in town Washington Street Purveyors (full disclosure: it is the only wine shop in town but even if it wasn’t, it would still be my favorite because it’s homey and comfortable, with a friendly, low-key vibe, lots of exposed brick, distressed woods and a snoozing dog. When you think “wine shop,” you think of this place.)
A few things to know about port before serving it to guests next Thursday:
- Port is a Portugese fortified wine that is neither fully fermented (like wine) nor fully distilled (like brandy). Port is a mix between the two, therefore tastes sweeter and contains more alcohol than table wine. (Port is roughly 20 percent alcohol, while wine ranges from 12 to 15 percent.)
- Because it’s sweeter and more alcoholic, the standard pour is less than that of table wine: 2 to 3 ounces instead of 5 or 6.
- There are 2 kinds of port: Ruby port, which is blended and quite young, giving it a hearty, “grape-y” sweetness that makes a nice, pronounced cold-weather sip. For cooking purposes, it is the port to choose. Tawny port is port that has been aged many years in wood, giving it a lighter, delicate, complex “nutty” flavor. It is the port to choose for sipping fireside with friends.
- Because it contains more alcohol, an open bottle of port has a longer shelf life than wine. Still, it’s best to store it someplace cool after opening. “Oxygen, temperature and time are wine’s adversaries,” says Chuck. The ideal serving temperature is 65 degrees.
- Port is traditionally served in a cordial or sherry glass, but don’t get hung up on the vessel. It’s fine to serve it low-key/Euro-style in a tumbler…or low-key/Rurally Screwed style in a jam jar.
If you’re new to port like I am, it’s not a bad idea to make a ritual/event out of it. Makes the education process more fun. Jake and I invited our friends Accacia and Grigg over the other night for “a drop of port” and nibbles.
Stilton cheese is the classic port accompaniment, says Meg Hall, owner of the fantastic artisanal cheese shop in town, Cheese to You. She also recommended Gouda. (Surprising fact: The round orange stuff sealed in red wax at the grocery store is not authentic Gouda, says Meg, in the same way sparkling wine from California is not champagne. Real gouda comes from a specific region and made a very specific way. If you have a chance to eat the real stuff, I highly recommend it.) Nuts, candied nuts, toffee, chocolate and anything with fig are excellent companions to port as well.
I was initially concerned the port would be too cloying and sweet for my palate, but Chuck’s recommendation — Quinta do Infantado — laid those fears to rest, for good, I think. While good quality tawny port might smell sweet, it definitely doesn’t taste that way going down.
The four of us polished off the bottle in a hurry.