The image of port has changed – and so have those who drink it, says Jonathan Ray. So where to buy the best? Porto, of course.
When sailing south to the Med for the summer, I can think of few finer places to pop into than Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the twin towns that straddle the mouth of the Douro river in northern Portugal.
Not only was Douro Marina refurbished a couple of years ago, now boasting a refuelling facility easily long enough to take a large superyacht, but Porto itself is also perfect for a different type of refuelling – stocking up on the wine that bears its name.
Figures just released show that sales of fine vintage and tawny port are on the up after years of decline. Once the preserve of elderly St James’s St clubmen slumped in leather armchairs, fine ports are finally being rediscovered and appreciated by a whole new generation and where better to rediscover and appreciate them than in Porto itself?
Today, thanks to the fact that the British have been in Porto since the 17th century, the best-known port producers and shippers sport such British names as Taylor, Graham’s, Warre, Croft, Churchill, Smith Woodhouse and Gould Campbell.
These port producers and shippers are delighted at the quality of the 2011 port vintage (the most recent to be “declared” and made available) with many claiming it’s the best port vintage for 50 years. Wine Spectator named Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port as its 2014 Wine of the Year.
The grapes that go to make these fabled fortified wines are grown in vineyards on the steep terraced banks of the river up in the Douro Valley. The wines are made there, then placed in barrel and brought to the many port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia to mature.
Great tawny port will spend up to 40 years in barrel, be full of nutty raisin and toffee flavours and won’t improve once bottled; great vintage port (only produced in top years) spends two years in barrel before being bottled and should be richer, denser and full of dark bramble and plum fruit. It will still improve decades after bottling.
Tawny port is excellent lightly chilled with puddings; vintage port is perfect with chocolate-based desserts (notoriously tricky to match with wine) or stinky blue cheeses.
But look too for white ports such as Taylor’s Chip Dry – an excellent on-deck aperitif, especially when served as a “Porto Tónico”, half and half with tonic, ice and slice of lemon. Or try the newfangled but really delicious pink port. My favourite is Croft Pink, delicious served straight from the fridge over ice.
At its best, port is one of the great wines of the world and it’s sad that for many it’s considered simply as a sure-fire route to a hangover. If you knock back the port having already drunk a couple of Martinis, some Champagne and several glasses of white, red and dessert wine then, yes, you will get a hangover. A big one.
Just don’t blame the port; the damage has already been done.
Portonomics: How to spend £3,000 on port
- Figures just out show port sales firmly up after decades in the doldrums. to celebrate your could buy one bottle of exquisitely rare 1863 Taylor's Very Old Single Harvest Port. £3,000, justerinis.com
- 22 bottles of 1963 Croft, a classic port from an exceptional year that is, remarkably, only now hitting its prime. carneyandbarrow.com
- 81 bottles of Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port, an impeccable tawny, full of nuts, toffee and Christmas cake. thewinesociety.com
- 157 bottles of 2008 Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage Port, a rich, meaty, but wonderfully fresh unfiltered 'baby vintage' port. thedrinkshop.com