Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 122

I know what you’re thinking.  She’s lost her mind.  Those words have nothing to do with wine.  But, they do.

Tonight, I begin the next unit of my WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Diploma adventure.  This unit is the Fortified Wines of the World (Port, Sherry, Madeira, etc.).  So, for the next few weeks, I will be focused on fortification.

There’s a long-standing tradition and ceremony in Portugal with regard to vintage port and how it’s served.  A vintage port is the tippy top of the port-pyramid in terms of quality, ageability, prestige and price.  It’s made with only the very best grapes from a single vintage that has been officially “declared”, which only happens a few times every decade or so.  Vintage ports are bottled after spending only 2-3 years in wood, and then the consumer takes over the aging process, cellaring them for upwards of 20-30 years.  I can’t wait that long, but people do.

As vintage port ages, a sediment (sometimes significant amounts of it) forms in the bottle.  When you finally decide to open your bottle, it will need to be decanted, or separated from that sediment.  After a vintage port has been decanted, Portuguese tradition dictates that it is to be passed to the left, or clockwise, around the table.  This has something to do with keeping your sword arm free in case of trouble (this assumes you’re a right-handed swordsman, but just go with it).  You’re supposed to keep the port moving (so everyone can have a second glass before it’s gone).  If the port gets stopped, it’s considered bad form to demand that someone pass the port, so there’s a gentle and civilized code.

How great is that?

Another little nudge is the phrase, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”  Henry Bathurst was Bishop of Norwich (in England) from 1805 to 1837.  Apparently, Bishop Norwich had a habit of falling asleep at the dinner table toward the end of a meal.  And, since you can’t pass the port when you’re asleep, the port decanters would pile up beside him, annoying his fellow diners.

So, the next time you’re sitting around a table full of vintage port and someone asks if your passport is in order, or if you know the Bishop of Norwich, you will know immediately that you’ve committed the egregious offense of port stoppage.  Get that decanter moving!



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