There has always been a special relationship between Portugal and Great Britain. Indeed, the Portuguese government declared three days of national mourning to honour the passing of her Majesty, the Queen. Equally, there’s something quintessentially British about serving a decanter of port at the end of a dinner party, passed around to one’s left of course, because etiquette rules know no bounds.
Traditionally the English have favoured the Ruby, whereas the Portuguese more often drink the Tawny. Now there are different versions emerging, many pioneered by Adrian and Natasha Bridge of The Fladgate Partnership. Still a family run business, the company originally began with Taylors in 1692, and now own Fonseca and most recently Croft, acquired in 2001. Each house has its own defined style which head winemaker David Guimaraens says can be tasted back 100 years or more.
Every vintage has a particular story, every bottle of vintage port is a time capsule
Fonseca, my personal favourite, is rich and robust with dense plush fruit, Taylors tends to be leaner and more aristocratically elegant and Croft is soft, silky and exotic, though Croft suffered a dip in its global reputation a few decades back, something that Guimaraens is keen to turn around. “The 2003 was the first classic vintage I made for Croft and it is exceptional quality… fine wine lovers want to drink a wine with identity”.
Vintage Ports are only made in outstanding years so “every vintage has a particular story, every bottle of vintage port is a time capsule”. Reminiscing about his life with the vines, alongside the Croft 2003, Guimaraens recommends the Taylor’s 1992, the Fonseca 1994, the 2011 as “quite extraordinary” and the classic years of 2016, 2017, 2018, the first time three back-to-back vintages were declared in nearly a century.
Port has an undeniably long history, but it is also going through a time of real change. Adrian and Natascha were the first to put port into cans, creating a lower-alcohol drink to compete with the pre-mixed gin and tonics and appeal to a different crowd. “Alcohol doesn’t go out of fashion,” says Bridge. “There’s a lot of ritual around Port that makes it quite aspirational but as an industry we have to be good at innovation”.
Bridge pushed the change in legislation allowing port to be canned as well as inventing the first rosé port called Croft “Pink”. This year may have been the most challenging year faced in Guimaraens’s 32 harvests, but it is still an exciting time for the Douro Valley, perhaps the most astoundingly beautiful scenery one can find just a two hour flight from London.
When it comes to pairing the Late Bottle Vintages (LBV) and the rich Ruby ports go for blue cheese or dark chocolate desserts. The Tawny ports are best served lightly chilled with milder cheese and sweet desserts like crème brûlée, caramel and milk chocolate. White port is perfect as an aperitif, especially in the summer served long with tonic, or from a convenient and recyclable can, while snacking on crisps, olives and nuts.