By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(TORONTO, ON) – After a week in Portugal on a gruelling touring schedule, I have been transformed from a person who knows nothing about Port to one who knows absolutely nothing about Port. Is this a waste of Portuguese government money bolstered by some EU subsidy?
Well it certainly has won me over and helped crack apart many of my stereotypes about Port. I can try and summarize my revelations in point form.
If I can be saved from Port ignorance perhaps I can redeem myself by sharing my humiliation and joy of learning experience with you, dear readers.
- Douro red table wines need little help. They are table wines amongst a sea of table wines flooding the global market. The Douro reds have a distinct in your face perfumed and rich black fruit blast to them. However I see a new school of winemakers trying to tame the red wine Douro beast by making wines with less flare and more acidity. I have heard such winemakers refer to these wines as more “elegant”. Unfortunately my opinion is that there is an attempt to neuter Douro reds to make them more internationally appealing. That’s a shame at it discounts a distinct Portuguese regional wine style. Douro whites remain in obscurity. A shame considering the unique varietals producing unique whites. Arinto, Voishino and Rebigato anyone?
- Port suffers from stereotypes in North America. I was exposed to stellar Vintage/Late Bottled Vintage/Colheita Ports which are rich black fruit Oscar Wilde wines. They drink superbly on their own or with rich chocolate desserts and blue cheeses. With these characteristics their utility is limited. A wine for geezers. Tawny Ports are an entirely different game.
- Tawny Ports are far more utilitarian than the Bismarkian Vintage and Late Bottle Vintage Ports. Think of them as a John F. Kennedy zipping around in a PT boat. They suit custardy and spicy orange and creamy chocolate desserts and even cheese platters! It took me three days in Portugal to figure this out after trying some 50 or so Tawny Ports. And I am supposed to be a wine writer! How long would this message take to settle within Port newbies? Perhaps never.
- Port will require ambassadors from the media that will try to tell the story of Port in a non threatening and basic explanatory fashion that readers will feel comfortable with. I heard producers hint repeatedly, “Port is a complicated business”. “Complicated business” has its own deep Portuguese meaning way beyond what you might think it means. Journalists who write about the technical classifications of Port and focus on tastings in an obsessive and detailed fashion only make Port more complicated than it is. I’d rather tie Port to basic and broad descriptions and match it to basic food groups and link it up with the people who produce it. Port should be an enjoyable story. In my case it was a journey through time and space.
- Port and Douro table wines need tourists to travel to Porto and the Douro Valley of Portugal to spread the word globally. Had I not been invited on the intensive Port tour I would have remained partially Port ignorant but rest assured I am a Port convert and I will pass that on to my readers. The President of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (IVDP), Manuel Cabral asked me how Port sales could be increased in Canada. My immediate response was through tourism to the Douro where Port is produced. I think that Manuel recognized that long before he was appointed as president of the IVDP where he wrote in his book, “Territories Of Wine”, “The wine, the territory where it is produced as well as tourism and all the products and services related to it, make a hamper which has an increasing demand and added value.”Considering regular non-stop flights to Porto in the spring and summer by Air Transat/SATA you can be in Porto in 6 ½ hours from Toronto! At that rate is the Douro a threat to the Okanagan!
- Most Port bottles are too large considering the high alcohol (18-20%) and relatively limited range of food accompaniments. Port producers should seriously consider producing more half bottles that can be consumed by a couple or a couple of couples at a dinner. A full bottle of Port is just too much!
- The varieties of Port available must be increased. There is so little in terms of style in the market no one knows about it. A vicious game as without consumption who is going to bring a full line-up of Port in the market?
- The versatility of various Port styles must be communicated. Geezer Port consumption focusing on LBV and Vintage Ports cheats all other styles of Ports. Who for example realizes that Tawny Ports are tremendous dessert wines or suit cheese platters? I have heard rather misguided but threatening comments that Tawny Ports are “just like Canadian ice-wine”. Not true but if its drinkers say this Tawny Ports are a threat to Canadian ice-wines.
- Attempt to increase Port as a cocktail ingredient. Who for example knows that a white Port and Tonic Water cocktail is a great way to start a dinner!
- Play up white Port as a pre dinner wine. I love a dry white Port to start my meal in Northern Portugal. Just try to find a white Port in Canada.
- Influence the Portuguese hotel industry to welcome visitors with a bottle of port in their room or a complimentary glass of Port in the lobby bar. I have experienced this thoughtful welcome many times in some Portuguese hotels and think it is a real positive newbie Port experience.
- Support the Port police. In my mind Port is produced exclusively in Portugal. It is subject to fanatical quality control and testing. Yet there are certain Canadian wineries producing “Port”. Quite similar to the use of the word “Champagne”. We should respect these sacred names and pay no respect to what I can only call counterfeiters.