Eric Asimov posed the question Does Anybody Drink Port Anymore? in 2009. The port industry seems to have realized eight years later that the answer is no. In a world of Unicorn Frappuccinos, port is like grandpa yelling at the grandkids to put their phones down and have some darn respect. But it shouldn’t be that way. At the Wine & Spirits annual Top of the List event, port producers had a strong presence in the perfect spot next to the crème caramel.
Port is a fortified wine, which means a distilled spirit is added. Originally this strengthened the wine for shipping. The fortification makes the wine stronger, sweeter and more shelf-stable. Two of the most-popular varieties are ruby and tawny. Ruby is thick and luscious with jammy qualities, while tawny is amber in color and nutty.
I was introduced to port by a chef at a steak house that I worked at 15 years ago. Port is one of those drinks that no one seeks out because it seems unapproachable. The secret of the luscious powerful after-dinner quaff is often passed on like a family heirloom. I remember sitting outside on a patio one balmy night when he brought out the ruby liquid and we began the ritual. Conversation while drinking port is required to be deep and thoughtful. The fortified wine loosens the tongue and the spirit, unlike wine or even bourbon. I learned a lot about that chef that night, and we bonded as only two can over a serious port.
A few weeks later, the whispers swished through the restaurant as famed pitcher Roger Clemens sat at my table. Ever the professional, I let him and his entourage eat in peace until the chef asked for a favor. “Can you ask him for an autographed picture?” he asked, the ever-present Yankees hat perched on sweaty brow. While it is my policy to never interrupt a celebrity, I remembered the port. I remembered the intimate conversation, and I realized I was bound by the code of the port. So, I asked the legend for his autograph, and he brought me out to his massive SUV where he had photos waiting.
I realized re-tasting port last night how much it is like Roger Clemens; both are huge and timeless, and they seem unapproachable, though they just want to be celebrated for what they are: legends.
In many ways, port is the opposite of the Unicorn Frappuccino. Port is serious and historical, and it demands respect, but that isn’t going to get anyone to Snapchat their port. That’s where marketing comes in. Let them have a taste of a good, tawny port with a deep luscious crème caramel, and you’ll have them hooked. The nuttiness of the tawny port stands up to the burst of sweetness from the caramel, while the mellow custard marries everything together. So, kids, get off your phones, whip up a caramel dessert, pick up a port and get classy this weekend. You may even make a lifelong friend.
Learn more: The Ultimate Wine Guide