Port isn’t just for Christmas, here’s four ways to enjoy it

Taylor's 10 year old Tawny port

I’ve always enjoyed a drop of port, but it’s usually just on my December shopping list.

If you only bring out the port when your Christmas hat has wearily drooped over one eye, the cheese board has crumbled with festive fatigue and you’re waiting for the Dr Who special edition to start, I urge you to think again. I’ve been on a learning curve and now I know that port isn’t just for Christmas.

My conversion began at sunset, in a hilltop folly with glorious twilight views of the Douro Valley in Portugal. I was drinking white port and wow, I loved it.

So here’s four ways to enjoy port throughout the year without the added panic of defrosting the turkey.

Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port

This was my white on the top of the hill. Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port (RRP £13.29 Waitrose, www.waitrosecellar.com) makes a wonderful alternative to a G&T.

My hosts at Taylor’s Port had carried ice, tonic water and bunches of fresh mint to the folly.

The port had a toe-wiggling warmth with added knee wobble and there was a fresh citrus tingle which burst in the mouth with a lick of creamy nuttiness.

I christened this drink a “winter mojito” when I was up there, perhaps I’d had a sip too many.

White Chip and tonic would be great any time of year and is delicious on its own too, especially with salted almonds.

Croft Pink Port

What’s this I hear the purists cry! Pink port?

Croft Pink (RRP £14.99 www.cambridgewine.com, www.thedrinkshop.com) lives under the same company umbrella as Taylor’s and is a raspberry embrace. It’s ideal for Girlie Nights.

Croft battled long and hard to create this pink port, mainly against the whys and wherefores of the centuries’ old port-making tradition. Croft eventually succeeded and the result has raspberry-rippled aromas with palate pockets of raspberry, strawberry, a layer of citrus bite and … well, a little bit of a kick.

I’m told a canny New York bar served this in an ice slush machine. So go ahead, simply pour it over ice or add to cointreau and prosecco for a bubbly pink delight.

There are cocktail recipes at www.croftpink.com/

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taylor’s 10-year-old Tawny Port

Pop the port in the fridge darling! Not something you’d expect to hear. I haven’t the space here to wax lyrical about Tawny 10, 20, and 30-year olds but I will say that Taylor’s 10-year-old Tawny (ranging in price between £20 and £25 at various retailers) is a dream with pudding.

It is rich and warm with figs tumbled in butterscotch, chocolate and a seam of dried fruits.

Pour a glass with caramel pudding, another with chunks of dark chocolate, and finish the bottle with coffee.

My new Taylors pals (I’ll be expecting Christmas cards) tell me that if you pop the Tawny in the fridge as you first sit down to dinner, it will be the perfect temperature by the time you get to dessert.

Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2009/10

Ooh, it’ll be chilly when you’re out celebrating Halloween or huddling round bonfire night flames. Try a variation on a mulled wine with a nice bottle of port (Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2009/10 is around  £15 and widely available).

Pour into a pan, warm it with an orange, cinnamon, or those ready-made mulled wine packs, add water if you must, and then let it warm you. If you insist on port making an appearance just at Christmas I’ll let you make this for the carol singers.

Published in the saturday extra magazine October 17, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Treading grapes to the Birdie Song beat puts the soul into Taylor’s port

Grapes arrive freshly picked at Taylor's Port Nogueira winery

Forget jazz, classical music or even opera. It’s the Birdie Song played on a little electrical organ which might be putting the soul into Taylor’s port wine.

Or should that be sole.

For one night only at Quinta de Vargellas in the Douro Valley in Portugal, the heart of port country, I stomped, wiggled and jiggled.

I was treading grapes. Ah, you see…  there was method in my musical madness.

I danced a few twisty turny traditional Portuguese folk dances in a granite lagar, which is, quite literally, a stepping stone.

This stone, my grape-crushing dance floor, is the first step in creating amazing port, the vintages of the future.

It was all great fun, but there’s a serious wine-making process behind it.  It’s much more technical than just doing the Birdie Song and a Portuguese version of the Macarena (which we did).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When freshly-picked grapes are first placed in a lagar, which is a knee-deep granite square trough, people tightly link up in a line to crush them thoroughly. In the next stage people move around freely crushing them (I guess that’s where my hip wiggles came in) to create an environment where fermentation can begin.

It takes lots of manpower and with the ever-changing ebb and flow of human lifestyles, the number of people needed to tread the grapes might not always be around in years to come.

So David Guimaraens the technical director and head wine maker for the Fladgate Partnership, which includes the Taylors, Croft, and Fonseca brands, has begun to future-proof the process.

He and his team have created “port toes” which were worth inventing just for the delightful name they’ve been given.

The mechanical toes – to be found at the company’s Nogueira winery – replicate the gentle foot pressure which David believes is the best way to achieve gentle extraction, and ultimately, the super-soft ports full of flavour and structure.

People can have a go at foot treading themselves if they find themselves in the Duoro Valley, as Croft has just opened a new tourism centre with a converted stable put aside for the experience.

Though I’m not sure the Birdie Song will be the background music. I think the keyboard player is permanently gigging elsewhere.

  • Find out more about how Taylor’s port is made here
  • If you fancy having a go at treading grapes,  the new visitor centre can be found at Croft’s flagship vineyard Quinta da Roêda, at Pinhão in the heart of the Douro Valley.
  • Below…. see the Birdie Song like you’ve never seen it before.
    Any resemblance to people who have wine careers and professional appearances to maintain is not exactly coincidence.