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How To Decant & Drink Port / Port Wine
I can almost feel the port headache looking at this great selection
I love port!
I am a big fan of drinking port. I think it is an excellent way to finish off a meal, or just to drink on its own.
Of course an excellent accompaniment to port is a few good old cheeses, I have written another article about that which is linked at the bottom of the page if you're into cheese as well, but first of all, let's talk port!
I am not claiming to be an expert on port, but I do like it a lot and am always willing to learn more about it and of course try new bottles.
I have written this guide both to help out the people that don't currently drink port and want to learn a bit more about how to drink and decant it and also the people that drink the stuff and would like to know a little more about the history and traditions of the drink.
I'm just going to pour myself a glass and then I'll get on with typing this up.
Imagine having this lot in the cellar!
When is port usually drunk?
Port is generally drunk after dinner although white ports are sometimes drank before dinner. A few glasses of port see you through to the next stage, which is either whisky or brandy.
I wouldn't recommend having port before a big night out, I have done it before, but it is a very heavy drink which doesn't sit well. It is perfect after a feast though, especially if you've been eating red meat.
There are lots of places to buy port, I'd recommend trying a few different types to start with to see what sort you prefer. The common ones are vintage, which is made from a single harvest and aged for 2-3 years in a barrel before bottling. These get better with age in the bottle.
Late Bottled Vintage is again made from a single harvest, but aged for a bit longer than Vintage before bottling. This sort of port doesn't really improve with age and is probably the most popular type, so get guzzling!
Ruby is made from a blend and is bottled ready to be drunk immediately. It tends to be a bit cheaper than LBV or vintage. Tawny port is also made from a blend, but aged for up to 40 years in the barrel. It tends to have a sweet caramel type of taste.
You need to try a few different types, so buy a bottle of each and have a go on all of them. Port is fairly inexpensive to buy so you can try without breaking the bank.
If you want to be inspired to drink port..
A great film to really inspire you to drink more port is the film Master and Commander. Port originally became popular in the 18th century when wine was being imported by British naval ships from Portugal. As the wine used to spoil, it was fortified to make it last longer and there you go, port was born. The Navy used to drink a lot of port and Russell Crowe's character Jack Aubrey, guzzles port all the way through the film. Just thinking about it makes me want to drink some port. The sad thing was that when I watched it the first time, I didn't have a bottle to hand. I intend to rewatch it my friend, who's also a big port lover, with a couple of bottles soon. If you haven't seen it, then it's worth a watch. With a bottle!
Got to drink the lot now. Oh well!
So how do you drink vintage port then?
Port is best served at room temperature, without any mixers, ice or anything like that. It is nice to decant the port before you serve it. This isn't strictly necessary with all ports, although more important with vintage and crusted port as it lets the sediment fall to the bottom, but it adds a bit of theatre to the proceedings even for the non sedimented varieties. The only thing is, if port has been decanted, then you are supposed to finish off the whole bottle in one sitting as otherwise it spoils quickly. Drinking the whole bottle isn't actually a problem, the only problem I find is when you run out of the stuff.
Port bottles are stored on their side to keep the cork wet, before decanting then you should stand the bottle upright to let the sediment drop. This can take between a couple of hours to a couple of days. The longer you leave it, the more sediment drops, but the longer you have to wait for that delicious port! It is then poured slowly into the decanter, leaving the last dregs of port filled with sediment in the bottle.
Traditionally after the port is decanted, the server pours for the person on his right, then passes the decanter to the person on the left which is the port side. It then travels round the table that way. This is believed to be so your sword arm is left free just in case you need to use it. I don't know what it must've been like hundreds of years ago, when there was a danger that somebody would start a swordfight with you while you're trying to have a nice drink but I'm glad that doesn't happen nowadays.
Do you decant your port?
Pass the port? Don't ever say this!
There is another tradition with port. If you want the decanter, then you don't ask for it to be passed. You ask the person closest if they know the Bishop of Norwich. This should act as an instant reminder that they need to pass the port, but if they say no, then tell them he's a great fellow, but he always forgets to pass the port. This should remind them to do the right thing.
This dates back hundreds of years to the original port guzzling Bishop of Norwich, who consumed so much port, he would often forget to keep the decanter moving. These traditions are not necessary of course, but they add to the social side of things and make drinking it a bit better in my eyes!
A way of tasting all of the flavour of the port, that also works for other drinks like whisky and other types of wine etc, is to take a mouthful, tilt your head forwards slightly then suck up some air into your mouth, through the drink. This lets you really get a good taste of exactly what is in there. It can be a tad overpowering when you do it with whisky as sometimes you get a bit too much alcohol vapour down your throat which makes you cough, but it's a great way to enjoy your drinks more and I find that I tend to do this with all alcoholic drinks now to really get the flavour going!
Please leave a comment below if you also enjoy port or enjoyed the article. If you want to read more of my stuff, please click my profile in the top right of the page and have a browse.