Monday, October 20, 2008

A port in every storm

This blog post is another of those pieces that originally appeared in the pages of the Washington Examiner back on March 14th, 2007. This one actually IS still available online at the Examiner website, so you could either go there directly by clicking here, or simply read below.

WASHINGTON - There’s nothing more warming, soothing, calming and, well, fortifying than a nice glass of port wine.

Of course, port wine is generally out of fashion. As the British novelist Evelyn Waugh once said, “Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher.” But this is partly why most Americans don’t drink the stuff. And it’s too bad — port is sometimes exactly what the doctor ordered.

Port wine is made from many varieties of very foreign-sounding grapes grown in the Douro Valley region of Portugal. Also known as “Vinho do Porto” or “Porto,” the name comes from Oporto, the city in northwest Portugal from which the wine was originally shipped.

Port is a typically heavy, rich, sweet, high-alcohol wine not only due to the type of grapes used, but also because it is fortified — the winemakers add some measure of distilled grape spirits (brandy or aquardente) to fortify the wine with an unnaturally higher alcohol content which, in turn, immediately kills the yeast cells, halting the fermentation process before the grapes’ remaining sugar is converted into alcohol.

Port comes in an offputtingly confusing variety of styles — vintage, tawney, Colheitas, ruby, white, etc. — and can also be produced as a semi-dry or even an extra-dry wine, but generally, sweet is what the market and tradition calls for.

Whatever the style, port is usually served at the end of a meal, with dessert or as the dessert. But why not go for a port cocktail instead?

The Porto Flip
Fill a cocktail shaker at least half full of hard, cracked ice and throw in 1 egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 oz. Ruby Port and 1/2 oz. cream (optional). Shake the heck out of it, then strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish, if you wish, with a light sprinkling of nutmeg.

Chivas Ruby Royal Martini
This one was made by the folks at Chivas, but is a killer nonetheless. Pour 1 1/2 oz. Chivas Regal Scotch, 1/2 oz. Ruby Port and 1/2 oz. Blackberry Brandy into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with lemon peel.

Irish Stout Sangria
This one is from Lucy Brennan, the owner of Mint and 820 in Portland, Ore. Into your serving glass pour 12 oz. Murphy’s or Guinness Irish Stout and a 1/2 oz. of simple syrup; allow this to settle, then add 1/2 oz. of Ruby Port. Gently stir this a few times, then top with the remaining 4 oz. of Irish Stout (the cans come in 16-oz. servings). Allow to settle for 30 seconds or so, then serve.

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