Friday, 29 February 2008

A new partner for Port!

Retro. I don't know who coined the term, but I'm not surprised it caught on. It invites us into life's fancy-dress department. Be sniffy if you must: call it ironic when you wear flares or a topper or back comb your hair. If you're honest, though, you quite like playing a role with preset expectations. Fashion is so relentless: just as you get used to it it's off again. Cuddle up with retro. Play a part. Forget your current habits for a minute and adopt some of your ancestors' ...

Drinking port, for example.

Our neighbours in the country bemoan the (relative) trickle of after-dinner port these days. Relative, that is, to the tide that flowed on a winter's night after a day's shooting before the hedgerows filled up with policemen. To criticize the drinking and driving laws would get me ostracized: to bemoan their effect on social life in the countryside is another thing. Farmers toddling home after midnight were seldom a cause of trouble.

One result is that everybody's port is getting older. A season's supply lasts three or four seasons these days, and those rare sips are correspondingly more appreciated. What is less easy to understand is that sales of port, and demand for the best ports - vintage, but also old tawnies and colheitas - is steady and rising. If not red-faced old sportsmen, who is drinking it? Your modern urban person, that's who. And not waiting for the cloth to be cleared and the ladies to withdraw, either. Port has met pudding, with dramatic results.

I first met this modern match in a New York restaurant. I admit it was chocolate on centre stage. New Yorkers make me wonder if chocolate has some Freudian significance. But in the list of wines offered to help the chocolate down port figured prominently. Top vintage port by the glass. I put my hand up for one (and ordered, I confess, a non-chocolate pud). The port, and the blackberry crumble, were a moment of revelation. I had discovered the wine's new rĂ´le, and one of its most perfect partners. That started me drinking port in a different light, as it were, and drinking it much younger. It's not 30 year old crusted bottles that sticky puds call for, but darkly potent, palate-massaging recent issues, intensely fruity and massively sweet. Wow!

Hugh Johnson,
Club President

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