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Port wine has long been neglected and considered as an old spinster's drink, but thanks to the re-discovery of its country of origin as the latest travel hotspot, fortified wine is having a revival and is on the way to becoming the next hipster potion. So put aside your coconut beer and wine slushie and indulge in this velvety gem!
What started around 2.000 years ago first became a century long-staple drink mainly to the Brits, then fell into a sleeping beauty, almost comatose condition, is now on the way to become a favorite among the thirsty millennial crowd. As Portugal is the shooting star among travel and gourmet destinations demand for its beloved national drink is rising equally. Young wine drinkers have rediscovered Portugal's fortified wine and seem keen to make it a drink of their generation, not accepting any longer its dusty image.
Portuguese wine has been made in the Douro Valley for approximately 2.000 years according to historians. The Douro Valley appellation is the third oldest in the world, only Chianti in Italy and Tokaj in Hungary are older. It is home to over 30 grapes authorized for port production, although only a hand full is actually used for it – among those are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, and Tinta Roriz.
With such a long-standing tradition, it should be understood that port is of Portuguese descent. However, with names like Cockburn, Taylor or Graham among its famous producers, you could easily fall for the idea that port is a British export. Locals insist that it is Portuguese through and through - with a little influence from the Romans, Greeks, and, yes, definitely, the Brits. Credit where credit is due – it was the English who added grape brandy to Portuguese wine to prevent it from spoiling while shipping it to England back in the 18th century, which incidentally stopped the fermentation process and resulted in what we know as fortified wine today.
What happened in the current century might seem even more groundbreaking - the omnipresent post-recession craft-beer movement has expanded over all sorts of alcoholic beverages and millennials are never tired to find new, old things to rediscover and put their stamp on it. And so they laid their eyes on Port wine. After a period of declining sales worldwide that sadly catered to the stereotype that port's signature demographic is, in fact, maiden aunts and members of musty men's clubs, the travel boom to Portugal marked a sharp turnaround. A new generation of port fans is now not only heading to Lisboa, but spreading word all over social media, and they are keen to experience Port in all its facets, not only as an after-dinner, cigar companion or a knockout slumber potion, but a hipster drink that can be consumed even for lunch and along a whole meal.
At first, Port has been entering the cocktail scene with drinks like the Port Classic and the Portuguese Sour, being served on the rocks or straight up. Once that box was ticked, the fortified potion started to take over the food scene – and that is where it currently celebrates an enormous success, showing off with pride it's potential and winning fans that would have never touched this strong sweet diva with a ten-foot pole.
When pairing Port with food it is essential to combine the right partners in order to experience the whole dimension of the wine without killing the taste and structure of the dish. High alcohol and lots of sugar are strong components to handle – so here is a little guide on how to master it:
Let's begin with the most accessible Port wine style – the fruit-driven, juicy one. This style includes Ruby Port, Reserve Port, and Late Bottled Vintage. Although all three differ in complexity and finesse, they all show a vibrant fruit, intense berry, cherry and often cassis flavor. They are pretty easy to handle, need no decanting and can be served without any fuzz. Their freshness makes them ideal companions for entrées like salads with goat cheese, figs, and pistachios, or red fruit sorbets if you want to serve them at the end of a meal.
More full-bodied and at times quite woody Tawnies have a completely different structure and a much higher acidity. This combination makes them the perfect pairing for venison roasts, stuffed snipes, ducks and other gamey birds and really hearty dishes. If you wish to serve your Tawny with dessert, make sure to use ingredients that play well along with the oaky, tobacco flavor – think chocolate soufflé, the chocolate used having a cocoa content of at least 85%, incorporating sour cherries, tonka beans and even woody herbs such as lavender and rosemary.
The queen of Port – Vintage Port with its intense sweetness and mellow softness, as well as powerful structure, requires strongly flavored dishes, very ripe cheese, even dishes that feature a spicy note. The Oriental cuisine with Moroccan Tajines, Persian dishes with lots of nuts, raisins, and pomegranates or Lebanese lamb roasts with intense spices like cinnamon and allspice are perfect partners in crime that convince even the most rigid hardliners who would never serve Port with anything else but cheese.
Speaking of - of course, cheese is always an option – basically, for all Ports – the rule here is – the more intense the wine, the stronger the cheese can be. Feel free to serve a Ruby with fresh goat cheese and add some juicy grapes Pair your Tawny with Manchego and gooseberry confit. And of course, an old Vintage Port will never disappoint along with a ripe stilton.
One port wine style that you shouldn't miss and that is not often discussed is White Port. Not only in cocktails mixed with Ginger Ale or Tonic but as a perfect match for salty starters – tapas come in mind: olives, sardines, even a charcuterie board with a bit of Pecorino and truffled linden blossom honey on the side.
So if you ever make it to the South Eastern side of Europe, make sure to dive into the ruby ocean and be prepared for some glorious wine and food combos that will even turn the most melancholic Portuguese Fado music into an ode of joy.