Embrace the tradition of passing the port to the left | Alistair Gibson
I attended a dinner this week where, as the coffee was being served, some decanters of port appeared. It was poured and passed left around the table, all very traditional.
It made me reflect on how, in many ways, port has become a wine that has slipped from our consciousness. Gone are the days when it was regularly served at the end of a dinner or when people would lay down port for their godchildren.
Port is as traditional as the turkey on Christmas day. Vintage Port is the pinnacle and is only declared in exceptional years with 2016 and 2017 being the most recent.
But there are a number of different styles that can all have their place on the Christmas table.
Taylor’s Port holds a special place in my memory as I was in the Douro valley during the 2016 vintage and was part of the foot-pressing team which pressed the grapes coming into the winery.
So I was pleased to see the Co-op supporting a reforestation project in the Douro valley through sales of Taylor’s Select Reserve Port (Co-op £7 on offer from £10.75 until January 2).
This is a great introduction to Taylor’s house style. Aged for about three years in old oak casks, it has a deep ruby colour with black fruits and a little spice on the bouquet, followed by a medium to full-bodied palate with more dark fruits, ripe tannins and a reasonably long, fruity finish.
It’s not the most complex port you will ever taste but at this price is great value and would happily work with some mature Cheddar or Stilton.
Tawny Port is a style aged in old wooden casks as opposed to bottles which is how vintage port is aged. The oxidation that takes place over a number of years gives these ports a lighter brown – or tawny – colour and a more delicate nutty character.
Noval 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Waitrose, Ocado £24.99) has been aged as the name implies for a minimum of 10 years. There are aromas of dried fruits, nuts, figs, orange peel and a little caramel, indeed it almost smells of Christmas.
The palate is quite mellow with more dried fruits and some candied orange peel, before a long, complex finish. I really like tawny port slightly chilled and it works well as an aperitif, but equally this would work beautifully with a chocolate dessert. Single quinta ports are generally from a single year which has not been declared a vintage and as such can offer some of the best value wines around.
Fonseca Quinta Do Panascal 1999 (Hermitage Cellars £20.50 on offer from £24.50) is absolutely my favourite of these and is drinking beautifully.
It is now 20 years old and has notes of cherry, plum, cinnamon and liquorice on the nose, followed by soft, velvety tannins and more dark fruit on the palate with a very long finish which never becomes too sweet.
This almost cries out for blue cheese and a bowl of mixed nuts such walnuts or Brazil nuts.