Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Tim Milford: My Vintage Port Experience

I turned 30 this year; something that didn’t end up being nearly as painful as I had been told it would be. I decided to use some money that I’d been given by some relatives to treat myself and what more appropriate way to do that then to buy a bottle of Vintage Port from the year of my birth (1983)?!

When buying older wines you can approach reputable wine merchants for wine that has been stored in their cellars, but this tends to come at a considerable premium. In recent times, I’ve taken a slightly more risky approach – buying from a wine auction website called The risk factor comes from the fact that unlike dealing with a wine merchant directly, if the wine has a fault there tends to be no way to claim a new bottle or get a refund. The sellers usually tell you where the wine has been stored and give details on its history; however the risk of a faulty bottle does loom rather large. The trade-off is, though, that as a result one can often buy wines on this website below market rates.

So, for my birthday treat I bought a bottle of 1983 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port, which I decided was to be drunk with my family on Boxing Day as an accompaniment to a rather indecent amount of cheese. I was very excited about the prospect of this port and had been promising great things to my family, who are all somewhat partial to a spot of the fortified stuff.

Two hours before we were due to have the cheese I started the decanting process; I carefully removed the waxy coating around the cork and tried to gently coax the cork out. 

It broke. In my experience this is not usually a good sign. 

I pushed the remnants of cork into the bottle, then poured it through a sieve into a jug, and my heart leapt: the colour was deep and rich and the aroma was immediately fabulous. Perhaps I hadn’t picked a duffer after all! I then passed the contents of the jug through a tea strainer into our decanter and left it for a couple of hours to awaken from its 30 year slumber.

On serving the port from the decanter I marvelled at the depth of its colour - for a thirty year old port it was certainly showing no sign of losing its vividness. On the nose it was fragrant and spicy with cinnamon and nutmeg showing - very appropriate for drinking over the Christmas period. On the mouth it had a full structure with a firm body, with an almost syrupy quality. The flavour was again one of fruits and spices with a slight background heat of alcohol that gave way to a long and powerful finish. The port was a perfect accompaniment, as would be expected, to the cheeses that we were having, particularly the stilton.

This was one of those wine adventures that, for me, makes the whole wine experience worthwhile. The excitement of opening the bottle and the enjoyment of consuming it, made for one very satisfied consumer and went some way to making up for those times when you open a bottle, only to be left disappointed with the result. It was also the perfect way to celebrate Christmas.

If only we could do that every week…

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