We were doing a tasting under a portrait of the 19th-century character Dona Antonia Ferreira, famed for her port and also for capsizing on the river Douro and surviving due to the spread of her crinoline skirts.
“How long can you keep a bottle of port once it is opened?” asked one of the group gathered around the glasses of white, ruby, tawny and late-bottled vintage at the Ferreira Port House in Porto, north-west Portugal.
“In my house,” said winemaker Antonio, “a bottle of port lasts only for the duration of a meal!”
Those who were brought up with the port decanter being dusted down for its annual Christmas outing were clearly cheated of tasting the drink at its best. Across the range, ports should all be kept cool and drunk fast. As a broad rule of thumb, if a bottle has a normal cork, it is best drunk in one sitting; if it has a bar-top cork, it can be kept in the fridge for a few days.
Those who were brought up on Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the delights of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which port wine is boiled to make “Smoking Bishop” (you can find the recipe in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery of 1845) will regard port as a drink of times past.
Wandering the streets of Porto today will dispel any such impression. Here, the sound of ice clinking in a glass of white port and tonic, served with a slice of orange, is interwoven with the babble of a youthful crowd. Port remains on trend in a city booming with new temptations and attractions and an influx of visitors.
The latter might not come exclusively for the “divine nectar of the gods” but they will leave having almost certainly taken their fill of it.