Except from article by Helen LeBlanc
Steppin’ Out Magazine (Fall & Winter 2000-2001)
Port became known as an Englishman’s wine quite by accident. King William III, tired of trade wars between England and France, put an embargo on shipments of French wine. The English, dismayed at losing their wine source, sent wine merchants to open negotiations with their ally, Portugal, as a supplier of wine. The Portuguese were eager for this windfall and prepared wine shipments for England. Concerned that the long voyage would spoil the wine, they added brandy to all the barrels at the dock. Although this wine was dark and astringent and referred to as “blackstrap,” business flourished in England. In pubs, the Port was served with lemon and became a popular drink. Port and lemon is still a familiar pub drink today.
Local English wine merchants, interested in a more elegant style of wine, visited Portugal searching for a more palatable product. They located monasteries in the hills of the prime grape-growing region of the Douro, where the friars added brandy during fermentation instead of at the end. This process stabilized and softened the wine, and increased the sweetness naturally. This new style of dessert Port became the darling of European dining. During the Victorian period, Americans, influenced by the elegance of English dining, imitated lengthy formal dinners with ladies in long gowns and gentlemen in black tie. As the ladies retired to drawing rooms to sip sherry, decanters of Port and humidors of cigars were dispensed to the gentlemen.
Why suddenly has Port become “in” with today’s society? This is a beverage that is reminiscent of a time of elegance, wealth, and refinement. It has ridden back into fashion on the back of cigars. The picture of the portly gentleman in a wing-back chair with a cigar in one hand and a cordial of Port in the other is redesigning our culture. Elegance is now in demand. Price is no object when new millionaires can be made every day.
A sweet wine, Port is normally consumed after dinner. Served in a cordial glass, it is sipped, rather than drunk, from a wine glass. Sipping slows down the assimilation of alcohol into the bloodstream. What about serving food with Port after dinner? The richness of the wine is enhanced by serving nuts, dried fruit, and cheese. Chocolate is a double-barreled favorite, but notice that dark chocolate is a better match than sweet milk chocolate.
What better way to toast the new century than with a glass that holds remembrance of the past and the dream of the future.
For information on California port wines, visit this page.
You may be interested in visiting FortheLoveofPort.com — a website entirely dedicated to port wines.
The Wine Spies often have ports on special. Take advantage of their 5% off coupon by using the code LINKSPY during checkout.