When it comes to port, gone are the days of gentlemen adjourning from a dinner table and settling into a smoking room to enjoy a cigar and a delicate, thimble-sized glass of the centuries-old dessert wine. Today, port is a style wine that's making a comeback. And while you're seeing a fair amount of attention for both the ruby and tawny versions on fine dining wine menus, the latest trend has been to see it displayed prominently in the form of a cocktail.
The first thing to understanding port is becoming familiar with the two styles. There's either the bold, fruity intensity of a young ruby port — the kind that pairs well with rich chocolate desserts or berries on ice cream — or there's tawny port, which displays a more complex style of barrel aging and nuanced flavors that bring new life to nut-based desserts and strong cheese, such as aged cheddar and Stilton.
A great way to break into the world of ports is to experience what their unique characteristics bring to a cocktail.
Both styles offer much to appreciate, especially if you ease into tasting different ages and vintages, but a great way to break into the world of port is to experience what their unique characteristics bring to a cocktail. And what better way to do that than for a holiday party?
Everyone expects the obligatory bottle bottle of bubbly, bourbon-laden eggnog or mystery-spirit punch that rarely leaves anyone with holiday cheer the next morning. (Whoever thought mixing spiced rum, Tennessee whiskey and vodka was a good idea really needs his or her head examined.) They'll be pleasantly surprised, though, by the more alluring and festive appeal of port, especially when presented in a less conventional way.
For a quick and easy guide, check out PortCocktails.com, a project organized by the Fladgate Partnership (which owns Taylor Fladgate, Croft's and Fonseca port brands) in partnership with New York's classic cocktail historian and writer, David Wondrich. Here you'll find everything from port-based spins on classic cocktails, such as the Bar Drake Manhattan and Louisville Julep. But we also have a few picks that are perfect for holiday entertaining, take little time to make and are sure to inspire a festive occasion:
A fruity way to break out the bubbles, this Ruby Sparkler adds a little depth to the average glass of champagne.
1 part young Ruby port such as Fonseca Bin 27
2 parts brut sparkling wine (well chilled)
Raspberries or blackberries for garnish
Pour port into well-chilled Champagne flute and top with brut sparkling wine. Garnish with a blackberry or raspberry and serve.
White Port and Tonic
A refreshing alternative to the old-school gin and tonic, dry white port eschews the often medicinal flavor of gin, bringing with it a fruitier appeal that pairs beautifully with tonic water.
1 part White Port such as Rocha Extra Dry White Port
1 part good tonic water such as Fever Tree
Slice of lemon for garnish
Mint for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add white port and the tonic water. Stir well and garnish with lemon slice and a few mint leaves. (Muddle the mint into the drink for a little more flavor.)
A zesty addition to a holiday soiree, this cocktail tastes a little like raspberry lemonade, with a little added kick.
1/2 part young Ruby port such as Fonseca Bin 27
1 1/2 parts vodka citron
2 parts lemonade
Sliced lemon for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add all of the ingredients and stir well. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a straw.
If you’re going to do a punch, you might as well make it a rich and soulful sipper like this spin on a classic British punch.
12 oz. of 10 Year Tawny Port such as Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny
8 oz. Larressingle VSOP Armagnac
4 oz. Wray & Nephew White Overproof rum
The peel of 3 lemons, cut in wide spirals
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz. fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
24 oz. water
1 whole nutmeg
In a 3-quart punch bowl, muddle the lemon peel and sugar. Let it sit for one hour. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Armagnac, rum and water and stir again. Carefully slide in a 1-quart block of ice. Chill for 20 minutes and grate 1/3 of a whole nutmeg over the top. Ladle out small servings into punch cups. Makes 20-30 servings.