It was the middle of the Port grape harvest last week in the Douro Valley, and I was having a cup of morning coffee with Rupert Symington – one of a band of brothers and cousins who run the family Port business – before we headed out to spend a day visiting the quintas (vineyard estates) that supply the family’s sterling group of Port brands: Graham’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, Smith Woodhouse and, more-recently, Cockburn’s. The previous night we had treaded just-picked grapes in the lagares at Quinta do Vesuvio, the Symingtons’ monopole Port brand, and this morning we were on the veranda of Quinta dos Malvedos, the bright star in Graham’s constellation of estates.
Symington spends a lot of time on the road in the U.S. and elsewhere pouring Port at trade shows and consumer events, and the topic came up about the excuses people often give for not trying a glass. In chatting about them, we remarked on how the excuses for not drinking Port are actually reasons for ordering or pouring a glass of it.
For example, “I never finish a bottle of Port.” But a bottle of re-corked vintage or aged tawny – both Port at its best – will easily last a week in the refrigerator or a cool place, while an unfinished bottle of table wine has generally lost its freshness by the next evening.
“In fact, I tell people that at the end of the meal – when they want to linger for a while and are still deciding whether or not to order another bottle of red table wine – why not have a glass of Port to finish the meal?” Symington says. That’s especially true in restaurants where a glass of tawny or of vintage from the bar can help finish off a cheese course or serve as, or with, dessert.
“Port is too expensive” is another refrain. But it’s really a bargain, as a single serving of Port – a small glass – is generally less expensive than a serving of table wine of equal quality. And one bottle can last two or three meals, if you don’t wait too long.
“Port gives me a headache.” Any wine or spirit will give you a headache if you over-indulge in it, just as too much food will give you a stomach ache or rampant obesity. True, Port is more alcoholic than table wine, but you are supposed to drink less of it. And Port has no natural chemical in it that other wines don’t have.
“I don’t like sweet wine” is certainly a legitimate excuse, if true. What people often mean is they don’t like a sweet wine that is cloying or sticky. Well-made Port is actually clean and refreshing, well-balanced and with good acidity that will leave the palate happy.
“There’re not enough people to finish a bottle.” That’s exactly the reason to have Port at a dinner party, when there are enough people to knock one off or leave just a little bit to bring a smile of remembrance the next afternoon.
“I can’t decide between having vintage or an aged tawny.” Ah, a great excuse! Let the sommelier choose one for you at a restaurant or flip a coin in you’re having dinner at home.