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Christmas is a Time for Parties, Presents, Punsch and Port Wine

From the sun-filled valleys of the Upper Douro in north-east Portugal, up to eighty varieties of grape provide the blend for a Port wines, giving each vintage a unique character, depending on how each of the varieties fare during the season. It is unlikely that you will ever taste the same Port twice, as each Port Lodge Shipper (see previous article on Port Wine for specific explanations) employs a unique technique in blending the varieties, and in his choice of oak cask or vat.

However drinking Port need not be an extravagantly expensive luxury, especially in this festive season, when many of us have to dig deep into our pockets. Consider serving White Port at under 10 Euros a bottle as an aperitif at your party, or a Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), at around 20 Euros a bottle, with your chocolate soufflé, treacle tart or even with stewed fruit and fresh cream.

In any case, lots of very tasty chocolate is around right now, and when married up to a bottle (or half bottle) of Ruby Port, for example a bottle of Graham’s Six Grapes, the relationship is set for life! ‘Six Grapes’ is released by Graham’s in the years when there is no Vintage, using six of the best grape varieties of the harvest. The varieties are usually Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Amarela and Tinto Cão, and the Port is then matured in Oak casks for 6 years. In the style of a LBV or ‘Vintage Character’, this style of Port does not need decanting, and can be stored for up to three months without spoiling. Perfect for those spontaneous desires for a chocolate feast. As a word of caution, however, and now I take on the role of the ‘mother-in-law’ in this chocolate-Port matrimony, Port has between 19% to 23% alcohol per volume, and should be consumed at a slow tempo with lots of fine conversation. So while the chocolate is likely to disappear at an astonishing rate, the Port should linger on for a few hours.

The true diversity of Port wine is very often witnessed in the kitchen. Non-Vintage Port is the finishing ingredient for a rich and sumptuous dish in a sauce with braised lamb or a saddle of venison. Beef and Port Pie leaves the palate relishing for more, as the richness of the dark berries and structured tannins complements the tenderness of the meat, giving it almost exotic flavours. Even the richness of desserts is boosted by adding Port, the Ruby Port giving it a cranberry fruitiness and a Tawny Port adding a subtle walnut-almond fragrance.

The 2000 Vintages are exceptionally fruity with firm tannins and complex flavours that range from liquorice and Lebkuchen to Chocolate with exotic, dark berries. These can certainly be tasted now, and in their youth are vibrant and the tannins dance over the tongue with amazing energy. On the left inner cheek, you have old grandma’s Lebkuchen and on the right the liquorice from your school days. Well this is how it is for me! I enjoy drinking Port throughout the year; a slightly chilled 10 year old Tawny Port in the summer to refresh the palate, and a fruity Ruby in autumn as the nights begin to draw in. Yet the biggest treat is a glass of Late Bottled Vintage with the first mince pie of the year! I assume that you all know what I mean by a mince pie?

(Short lesson in the absurdities of the English language: mincemeat is the main ingredient of the mince pie, and is sweet. In English, we have two words for ‘Mincemeat’, either finely diced red meat, translated as Hackfleisch, or das Gehackte; or mincemeat made from raisins, dried fruits and suet, translated as “..süße Pastetenfüllung aus Obst, Rosinen, Gewürzen, Nierenfett usw…” in the Oxford-Duden Dictionary. There is also a 'Scottish mince pie, which is something different again!)

Only when I have gone through the ritual of a glass of Port with an oven warmed mince pie with fresh clotted cream, can I fully get into the festive Christmas season. It is probably like the first Punsch at the Punschstanderl for the Viennese.

Now that I am in the festive spirit, I wish you all the best for the next 2 weeks of Christmas Shopping!

P.S. Don’t forget to leave Santa Claus a glass of Port next to the chimney on the 24th December to keep him warm during his long flight around the world.

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