Lads, I’ve had a disturbing bit of news highlighted to me and I don’t really want to believe that it’s true, but apparently it is. Port sales, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, are down from eight million bottles to five million over the last decade. Sherry and vermouth are also down. This is not appropriate behaviour, chaps. I mean prosecco is all well and good, but we can’t leave types of booze behind just because they’re not trendy. Drinking is a serious business and you can’t sup gin with your cheese or swill your chilled martini glass out with a picpoul, can you? Look, we traditionally drink certain drinks at certain times of the year because we realised at some point in history that it was perfection. (Even my most hated cocktail negroni is the perfect drink for an al fresco bar in Italy in the summer.)
I have personally introduced many younger-than-me people to port and sherry. Even at university I was known to order a sherry at the student bar. This was always a useful order as the barperson (usually another student) would have no idea how much a ‘normal’ serving should be and would pour half the bottle of Harveys in a glass and hope for the best. More recently my port selections at Christmas have won over friends and family and some folks have now made it their own winter tipple.
I’m such a fan of port that I even have port cocktails in summer. As such, I was really pleased when Kopke Reserve Tawny got listed in Waitrose toward the end of last year. Kopke is the world’s oldest Port wine house, having been founded in 1638. Last year they sent me a fantastic selection of vintage port. A notable one was the 1978 Colheita priced at £89.95. To be honest though, I have seriously pedestrian tastes and I enjoyed the 2003 at £29.95 just as much as the older, more expensive vintage. I guess it’s just that you want to open something special for special occasions such as Christmas plus there are those with superior palates to mine who would completely relish the experience. I shared it with a friend who is younger than the vintage, which kind of tickled us a bit.
You can buy a good selection of Kopke vintages from Vintage Wine and Port if you don’t fancy what is stocked in supermarkets.
In recent years I’ve often been invited to vintage port tastings at my spiritual home, the cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield. This is clearly because port and cheese is a spectacular combination. Classics such as fish and chips or beef and mustard are recognized by their perennial popularity. Now please don’t abandon port and cheese because of any misguided notion of it being fusty or old-fashioned – it is divine. This year Paxton & Whitfield sent me a lovely mature stilton that was paired with a Fonseca Guimaraens 1998 (£27.99 from Waitrose).
Another very honourable mention has to be made for Taylor’s. I love their 10 year old Tawny (£22 from most supermarkets or Majestic wines), but they also recently released a 1967 single harvest port as part of their 50 year old limited edition tawny ports. It is £175 per bottle and can be bought through UK agents, Mentzendorff & Co.
So you see, there is a port for every pocket and every taste. I want to see a recovery in sales next year or me and yous will be having words.
UPDATE: The brilliantly well-informed Sue Glasgow sent me a link to this story: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/01/port-sales-are-not-in-decline-says-fells-md/ – so premium port is bucking the trend of declining sales in the fortified sector. All is not lost, my bully boys – onward ho!