Monday, February 06, 2006

Port Pouring Logic

Now, the guys at Wine Lovers Page have really done it. On their website they espouse a simple and practical way to decant your vintage port -- exactly the way I've been doing it for years. I have to admit that I was never quick to own up to this non-traditional method, but now I realize it made too much sense for it not to have been discovered and promoted by countless oenophiles.

In case you don't know, vintage port -- the big kahuna of ports -- is unfiltered and bottle-aged. As a result, it throws off a ton of sediment as it ages -- and it can age forever. When it's time to open a mature vintage port, it's traditional to decant the wine so that the wine can be separated from all that sediment. Many even like to use the traditional candle method -- the neck of the bottle is held over the flame while the port is poured into the decanter. When the first sign of sediment is spotted creeping up the neck of the bottle, illuminated by the flame, it's time to stop pouring.

I never thought my eyesight was that bad, but I always had a devil of a time spotting the sediment no matter how close I held the bottle to the flame. And, it just seemed so pointless. I don't remember where I got the idea, but I simply tried stuffing some cheesecloth into a wine funnel, and poured the wine through it. It worked perfectly. I've never been tempted to try decanting any other way ever since. No need to stand on ceremony as far I'm concerned. And, don't be afraid of a little sediment however you choose to decant.

The absolute best port I ever tasted was completely unfiltered, undecanted, unceremoniously poured and consumed. I was working at the wine store then, a number of years ago. Late one Saturday morning, two scruffy workmen came in with a box of assorted wines. They had been paid to clear out a house whose elderly owner had recently died. In the basement, they found some well-aged, dusty bottles of wine, so they decided to bring them in and see if they could make themselves some quick cash.

The box they carried contained some good-looking bottles of Bordeaux from the '70s and '80s, a couple of Barolos and Barberescos and some port. The full-timer with whom I worked could barely conceal his glee, but he played it cool and offered $100 for the lot -- excluding a couple of bottles that had obviously suffered serious leakage. They settled for a little over $100, and the guys left happy. They even left the bad bottles behind, having no idea what to do with them. One of the two bottles in bad shape was a 1963 Croft.

After celebrating his triumph (if properly stored the wines could have been worth up to $1,000), Andrew decided we might as well open the bad-looking bottles just for ha-ha's. When we pulled the cork on the Croft, it simply fell apart as it came out. We simply poured the wine into some tasting glasses -- we didn't even think of decanting, so pessimistic were we about the port's condition. But when tasted, it was quite simply to die for. It was rich and silky, like creamy chocolate truffles with a subtle wiff of prunes. I was bowled over by the elegance and grace of this well-aged classic.

It was perhaps the smoothest, classiest-tasting port I've ever had. And, it taught me two lessons. Never judge a wine by its cover, and don't think that ceremony is essential to a great wine-drinking experience. Ceremony can be nice in the right situations, but that unfiltered port in a simple glass shared with other fans may have been one of my absolute favorite wine-drinking moments. You can keep the candle.


Anonymous Tquila said...

I wish I had been scheduled that night.

6:48 AM  
Blogger JD said...

Me, too. Andrew, of course, wasn't sharing the good stuff nor was he telling Martin about it. But, damn, the "bad" stuff was great. I'm sitting on a stash of some nice '85s right now, which must be developing nicely, but they're not '63s.

8:05 PM  

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