PORT for the HOLIDAY SEASON
“Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.”, Percy Crof.
Port is regarded historically as a British drink especially as a traditional British Christmas drink. Surprising for a country that has embraced drinking Port since the 17th century, most English households buy just one Port bottle a year – mainly at Christmas! Do you see the French or Italians buy just one bottle of wine a YEAR??? Or Russians buy just one bottle of Vodka per annum? Still, most Brits drink Port as a festive drink on a festive season; Christmas.
Christmas or “Christ’s Mass” is actually Jesus Christ’s Birthday, it is a Christian holiday, celebrated in the old Jewish tradition of celebrating an occasion or a holiday on the eve of the day (from sun set to sun set), as the “official” birthday is on December 25th, millions of people around the world celebrate evening and midnight masses on a very important date on the Christian calendar Xmas eve, on December 24th. The reason celebrations occur on Christmas Eve, is because the traditional Christian liturgical day starts at sunset, an inheritance from Jewish tradition, which is based on the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis: “And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.” (Genesis 1:3-5) –“ויהי ערב ויהי בוקר יום אחד”
Christian religious, old pagan and secular themes are mixed in this holiday which is near or on the days of winter solstice. The ancient Egyptians decorated palm branches during the winter solstice to symbolize resurrection. Ancient Greeks decorated evergreen trees in worship of Adonia, who was resurrected by a serpent. Romans covered their trees with metallic decorations and candles to honor Bacchus (our wine god), The ancient Germans decorated evergreen trees in worship of Woden. Apart from Christmas tree, and presents giving (of course), the holiday include a special meal. The Christmas dinner is the primary meal traditional for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (at Lunch). Christmas dinner around the world may differ and the local traditional aspects affect the content the traditional products used and even the colours of the dishes, they all usually serve as symbols to commemorate aspects of life from religious to cultural and local even climatic points of view. In the United Kingdom the main Xmas meal is usually eaten as lunch on December 25th.
The dinner usually consists of roast turkey or better stills goose, duck, pheasant, or other Roasts, in medieval England, the main course was either a peacock or a boar, in fact King Henry VIII was the first English King to have turkey for Christmas. Served with stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly; bread sauce; Side veggies are traditionally: Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots (as if there was any other choice at the time the tradition was laid down and throughout the centuries and up to the late 1980’s). The dessert is Christmas pudding (or plum pudding), sometimes mince pies or trifle, with brandy butter…Port of different qualities may be served with each of the traditional dishes including the Roasts, but the best and most classic combination is Vintage Port served with a good quality Stilton or other blue cheese even well matured Cheddar, and Parmesan, accompanied by nuts mainly Walnuts, chestnuts, cashews, and hazelnuts that bring out the best in port.
One story regarding the appearance of Port is that a wine merchant from Liverpool, sent his sons to Portugal in 1678 to find a wine source due to shortage of Bordeaux wines (Clarets). They came upon a monastery in Lamego in the Douro Valley where the abbot was adding brandy to the wine already during fermentation rather than after, producing a port-type wine with higher sugar and alcohol content. A nice legend which happens one hundred years after the first recorded shipment of Port in 1588, and so remains a legend, but certainly sometime during the end of the 1600’s or beginning of the 1700’s, someone came up with the idea of stopping the fermentation with brandy while the wine was still sweet, fruity, and strong of which the English aristocracy could not have enough…
British wine merchants moved to a suburb of Oporto, Vila Nova de Gaia that lies opposite Oporto town and made it the true home to Port. The wine comes used to be shipped down the river from the spectacular terraced hillsides of the Douro valley to Oporto, shipped down the river by distinctive looking boats called ‘barcos rabelos’ . Oporto which lies at the mouth of the Douro river. Vila Nova de Gaia became dominated by British Port wine lodges, with over fifty wine companies based in its narrow, twisting streets many still carry British families names: Barros Gilberts, Sandeman, Robertson’s, Graham’s, Warre’s, Smith Woodhouse and Cockburn’s, The Symington Family, Croft, Taylor etc.
It is here in Vila Nova de Gaia, that aging and blending of most of the world’s supply of Port wine takes place. One of these families (known as Croft), was originally Phayre & Bradley founded over three hundred years ago. The earliest evidence of the firm’s activity as a Port shipper dates from 1588, coincidentally the year of the first ever recorded shipments of Port wine. after its founding partners and took its present name Croft, in 1736 when it was joined by John Croft, a member of an old and distinguished family of Yorkshire wine merchants.
Although well established in Oporto, the Crofts never lost touch with their Yorkshire origins. In his treatise, John Croft describes himself as ‘Member of the Factory at Oporto and Wine Merchant of York’. The family returned to England in the nineteenth century, after the Peninsular Wars, and there are no longer any Crofts in the firm. The family maintained its affection for the fortified wines of the Douro and the late Percy Croft, who died in 1935, is credited with the famous words: “Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.” (I just can’t resist in reciting again this wonderful saying.)
In 1911 the House of Croft was acquired by the Gilbeys, the distinguished English wine trade family. It is now owned and run by descendants of two old Port wine families, the Yeatman’s and Fladgate’s. It is those wondrous vineyards: the famous Quinta da Roêda, that are largely responsible to its ownership of one of the finest estates of the Douro Valley, earned for centuries by croft, that keep on ,the place of distinction earned by Croft and its wines.
The best and most classic combination is Vintage Port served with a good quality Stilton but also consider blue cheese or a Cheddar, or Parmesan, accompanied with walnuts or chestnuts, in fact nuts of all sorts bring out the best in port.
‘Declared’ Vintages are the best Vintage years, averaging 2-4 each decade, which produce wines of great concentration and longevity. They are usually blended from the best produce of more than one estate. Croft’s declared Vintage Ports, although based on the wines of Quinta da Roêda, sometimes also contain wines from other top estates. Croft is one of the most famous Vintage Port houses and it’s declared Vintage Ports, such as the legendary 1945 and more recently the award winning Croft 1994 are among the most sought after Ports. (from Croft www site)
This is all written due to my recent acquisition of one case (of 12 bottles) of Croft 1970) I have has a few bottles of this port in the past (from the Cambridge University cellars yearly “clear out”) and they were simply divine. The Croft 1970’s has incredible structure and good acidity and residual tannins to make it last, even beyond 2020. Croft 1970 has a tawny red colour with a touch of deep purple, the nose is delicate and refined. The fruit is still apparent with flavors of dried fruits: sultanas and prunes and touch of tobacco, aand a mixture of dried exotic sweet spices. Some bottles are better than others depending on the cork quality and endurance they tend to start seeping at a certain stage, I am sure it will give me pleasure in the coming years.
But the cellar has more to offer:
One of my favorites is a non “pedigreed” LBV (late bottled vintage) from a co-op called Porto Vilanova vintage 1977 (a great Port Vintage year,) which were bottled for me, on different years as the time gone by from 1987 and on, and it got better each time I tasted it and as the years went by and the wine was still “brewing” and maturing in its original Barrel (I shared one whole barrel) and still have some for special occasions. It has deep scent of spiced coffee, chocolate and black prune concentrated prune (Powidl style) taste, simply delicious.
Powidła or Powidło in Polish is a plum stew. Unlike jam or marmalade, Powidl is prepared by cooking prunes (for hours) without additional sweeteners or gelling agents just sheer dehydrating, and achieving concentration of the fruit natural sweetness. The plums used should be harvested as late as possible, ideally after the first frosts, in order to ensure they contain enough sugar.
1937 and 1963 Barros Port
The 1937 Port has brownish red appearance with deep amber hue, seducting aromas of vanilla scented tobacco, golden raisins and chocolate gingerbread. The rich, hazelnuts and dark raisins and a touch of fig.
There are also: Grahams 1994 LBV, Cases of 1994 Vintage Warre, and Dow’s many more mainly 1977 and 1994 Port to sweeten our lives for years to come..
Not to forget the young but beautiful Neipoort Vintage Port 2009 and Neipoort 2001 Colheita we had recently (the complete story https://wine4soul.com/2012/05/15/the-magnificence-of-the-douro/ )
Now I have to choose which one is my “Festive Port” for this year’s celebrations, I have this tingle at the tip of my fingers and tongue to “go for” the 1963 Barros, This is an LBV in the Best British tradition as Yair says, and LBV’s always surprise you to the better, it is a good Barros Vintage, we’ll see after all I always choose by the guests, atmosphere, and the meal.
…In the meantime
I will leave you with warmest season’s greetings a a delightful version of this Christmas classic Vintage 1954 by the Drifters. Sweet animation with Santa and Reindeer Singing White Christmas (Animated version), of this Colheita quality Song. judge for yourselves!
Cheers and a very HAPPY NEW YER from the very Holy Land…
A wonderful blog. I have clicked to follow by email. I love Port — from Galicia (Spain) nearby. Wonderful tutelage on Christmas and its traditions. Will continue reading this and thanks for including me. Maria Quintas in NYC, USA
Wonderful and festive post! Love port, love this time of year, love the song and love the Wineguide xxx