Did you know the Queen Mary 2 has a port bar! That’s what they serve! Fancy display cabinet, bottles going to back to 1840 or so. They are for sale and consumption. -Editor
Any Port in a Storm
While we’re waiting to sail again, if you are getting tired of toasting with “quarantinis” after four months, perhaps it’s time to discover the Joys of Port Wine.
Using this time to get knowledgeable before visiting the Port bar….
What is Port?
It’s a wine that comes from Portugal. The British love wine. They’ve loved French wine, especially Bordeaux. The French and the British governments haven’t had a nonstop love affair. Think Napoleon. Waterloo. The Abba Song.
During one such period, the Brits switch to wine from Portugal. in the days before steamships and refrigeration, wine could spoil over long journeys. They experimented with adding some brandy to the wine, “fortifying it” for the ocean journey. Port wine was born. It has a higher alcohol content than table wine. generally speaking, it doesn’t spoil. Put another way, the only way to ruin a bottle of port is to smash it against the side of a ship.
Types of Port
Port wine is famous for its longevity. On wine-searcher.com, you can find bottles dating back to 1875. Ignore this bit of history, the main point is you are unlikely to get a bad bottle. Compared to cult cabernets from California and famous wines from Bordeaux, dollar for dollar, it’s excellent value.
Port is almost always a red wine. It’s rich and sweet. There’s lots of underlying flavors. It’s usually drunk in small quantities, compared to table wines. It’s considered an after dinner drink. Too much will bring a terrific hangover. FYI: Port comes from Portugal, much like Champagne comes from that region in France. Other countries produce their own versions of “port” but the famous stuff comes from one place.
- White Port. An invention by the industry because traditional port was falling off in popularity. It’s designed to be an aperitif or before dinner drink, similar to a cocktail. The alcohol level is about 16-20%. It should run about $ 20-25
- Ruby Port. Labelled as such, it’s the lowest tier in the hierarchy of port. It’s red. About 20% alcohol. Very little aging. Expect to spend about $ 18.00.
- Tawny Port. Now aging comes into the picture. 10 years. 20 years. 30 or 40. It’s aged in wooden casks. More flavor. It’s not from a specific year. About 20% alcohol. A 20 year Tawny port might run $ 40-$60/bottle.
- Late Bottled Vintage Port. (LBV) Now there’s a vintage date on the label. It’s aged in wood barrels for four to six years, then bottled and released for sale and immediate consumption. We’re still talking about 20% alcohol. We might be talking upwards of $25/bottle.
- Vintage Port. The top of the scale. Vintage port is only bottled in declared years. Each port house determines if it’s good enough. For example, in the 1960’s, the big years were 1960, 1963 and 1966. Then years. Three vintages. It’s aged in wood barrels for two years and bottled with the expectation the buyer will “cellar it” or put it away for at least ten years. This is why buying an older “previously owned” bottle makes sense. Let someone else deal with the aging. We are still at 20% alcohol. There are many variables like producer, year and age. Assume you are talking $85 up into very high numbers for very old ports. What’s a high number? A 1963 from a famous house might be $ 450/bottle. A 1977, 170/bottle.
What Do You Do with Port?
You drink it, of course. On LBV and Vintage ports, expect they will “throw sediment,” a technical term for this dirt like mud in the bottom of the bottle. You decant it first. Stand the bottle upright for a few hours. The sediment settles to the bottom. Slowly pour the wine in a decanter until you start to see the dirty stuff. Serve from the decanter or rinse the bottle clean and pout the port wine back in. Why bother? You don’t want to be the guy getting the last glass if there’s sediment.
Let’s skip to food. It’s a dessert wine. It goes well with chocolate. We could stop there! Walnuts and Stilton cheese are good too. It’s fine as its own dessert.
What Does This Have to Do with Cruising?
Cruise ships serve port in their bars and restaurants. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 has a port bar! Ships sell it by the glass or by the bottle. You will develop an expertise you can share with others after a marvelous dinner, one of many when we start sailing again.
Please pass the Port!