This week we’re tucking into some local Port-style wines with Greg Landman.
In My Fair Lady Colonel Pickering says to Henry Higgins as the glorious Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle descends from above, “Higgins, at a time like this, it’s positively indecent that you don’t need a glass of port.” All wine would be Port if it could – Old Portuguese wine saying.
Missed Greg’s list of Noble Late Harvest wines? Find it here.
The story of Port is inextricably linked to Portugal and the Douro Valley in particular, with its arid, hot and semi barren conditions – perfect for the kind of grapes that give this wine its gravitas. Grapes like Tinta Barocca, Touriga Nacional, Souzao and others are at their best when they have to struggle. So they’ll take a pass on the softly falling rains and gentle conditions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
After signing a treaty with the EU, we are not allowed to refer any fortified wine bottled after 2012 as ‘Port’. Instead, the term ‘Port-style wine’ is the preferred phrase. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the wine that dare not speak its name has had a brilliant and long history in South Africa with some of the best Port-style wines coming from Calitzdorp. Thanks to the climate conditions in this Klein Karoo town, the Nel family at Boplaas have made a name for themselves in the world of Port-style wine as well as other wines and brandies, many of which have won awards from all over the world. No wonder the Portuguese are edgy if there are wines of this calibre being made in faraway Africa.
In culinary matters, Port and cheese are a match made in heaven. You’ll find that due to its characteristic tang, it’s not suited to soft mould cheeses like Camembert and Brie. Opt for Cheddar, and, of course, any blue cheese like Stilton, a rich dolcelatte or Gorgonzola, with a walnut or two. Dark Ports should be served at room temperature, 16℃, but do bear in mind that summers in South Africa are very warm and room temperature doesn’t mean even slightly warm in this context. White Port, which should be served cold, is best served as an aperitif or even as a cocktail, with tonic and a splash or twist of lemon – most refreshing.
Here’s our guide to picking the right wine glass.
4 Port Traditions
Of course, as we all know, the English have so firm a hold on their traditions that it wasn’t long before lovers of Port invented some of their own. The first of these concerns decanting. Some devotees would never dream of drinking Port from a bottle – it HAS to be decanted. This might be necessary for some very old vintages – to separate the sediment – but is considered an affectation by more modern drinkers.
The second of these traditions is the process of passing to the left. It’s considered essential to pass the Port to the guest on your left after pouring a glass for yourself and another for the person on your right. The origins of this are lost in history but it probably has naval origins as the left-hand side of a vessel is the port side, but who knows?
Then we have the famous Bishop of Norwich tradition. I’m not sure which Bishop gained a reputation for keeping the decanter too long, but it became a term for someone who didn’t share promptly. In an effort to politely remind a guest to pass the decanter, a person would say, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” Very English.
Finally, traditional Port decanters are made with round bottoms so they cannot be put down but have to be passed to the next guest promptly. This decanter is called a hogget and can only stand in a flat-bottomed wooden stand which is always placed close to the right elbow of the host or hostess. Ever wondered where the term “hogging it” comes from?
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Now on to more important matters: wine. Here are some examples of excellent local Port – I can call it that – who is going to stop me?
11 of Our Favourite Port Wines
De Krans Espresso N-V
If you find mocha and chocolate notes appealing, then this is the Port for you. It’s got plenty of dark plum flavour by the truckload thanks to its Portuguese varietals. Keep it simple and pair it with the very best vanilla ice cream you can lay your hands on. Be careful. It’s very moreish when you want to be spoiled. Pick up a bottle for R70.
Stellenbosch Hills Muscat de Hambourg 2018
Veering away from traditional Portuguese grapes, this Stellenbosch Hills Port-style wine is still unapologetically delicious. The fragrance of the Muscat de Hambourg shines through with plenty of rose petals on the nose and sweetness in the mouth – another perfect match with the best ice cream at just R86.31 a bottle.
Boplaas The Chocolate Cape Vintage 2016
Without being overtly chocolate in flavour, this marvellous wine delivers some liquorice, blackberries, apricots and dried fruit tang. The luxuriating state in which the grapes were in created a garnet colour. At R92 for a 375ml bottle, it’ll go down a treat with light curries – just be sure to cool it down before serving.
Axe Hill Cape LBV 2011
As I always say, time is money in the wine business. This particular bottle is a bit younger, with more alcohol and slightly more sweetness. It’s delicious on its own and a very special gift for Port lovers. Find it for R130 a bottle from the cellar.
Axe Hill Cape Vintage 2008
Made up of 60% Touriga and other Portuguese grapes, this Axe Hill fortified wine is rich and appealing with plenty of fruitcake flavours as well as depth from cellaring. Fix me a cheeseboard of Stilton and walnuts and Stilton, and I’m all yours. Tuck into a 500ml bottle from R160.
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Allesverloren Fine Old Vintage 2010
From six Portuguese varietals that have been growing on the slopes of the Kasteelberg since 1954, with no irrigation whatsoever, this fruit is worthy of being made into one of the finest wines we have. It’s intensely dark and fragrant with black cherry, cinnamon and cloves, and mince pie flavour. It strikes the perfect balance between tang and sweet. It’s a knockout at R165 per bottle.
Boplaas Cape Tawny
Made from the finest Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional grapes, this vintage shows that its premium producer knows a thing or two about this type of wine. Matured in barrels for a minimum of eight years, this Port-style wine is packed with tastes of brandied fruit, caramel and honey with just the right amount of tang to keep it all going. It’s a much loved Calitzdorp classic that deserves to be served at 11℃ in a white wine glass. Pick up a bottle for R177.
L’Ormarins LBV 2015
For those wondering what ‘LBV’ means, it stands for ‘Late Bottled Vintage’. This style of Port means the LBV has been released four to six years after the vintage, as opposed to the practice of ageing a vintage Port for two years, bottling and then releasing it to be aged further. Made from Touriga and picked as late as possible, this one is a cracker. There is a definite raisin flavour without cloying sweetness, so it’s got plenty of fruitcake nuances. It makes for easy drinking and finishes lightly with a lingering aftertaste, but watch the alcohol content (at 17.5%). It’s a great aperitif, so sophisticated. I can’t help but love the label, very seafaring. Get yourself a bottle at R190.
Zandvliet VLW Cape Vintage Shiraz 2014
Here’s another acronym to familiarise yourself with: VLW. In this case, it means Vintage Liqueur Wine. Crafter from the farm’s signature grape, this Shiraz Port-style wine is gorgeous, showing that there are no rules when it comes to wine. All that truly matters is how it tastes. The three years it spends in the barrel helps to create a mysterious smoky flavour and finishes off appealingly dry. It’s an absolute pleasure with cheddar at the end of a perfect meal. Find it for R215 a bottle.
De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2016
The first grapes were planted on this farm in 1936, mainly for raisins, and today they are producing Port-style wines in the old tradition as well as a wide range of others worth trying when you get round to it. This particular bottle is a serious player and one of the finest you will ever get. It’s intensely dark and irresistible. Get the best gorgonzola in town, cool the bottle slightly and be prepared for something really irresistible. Be prepared to dip into your wallet a little at R295 a bottle.
Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2016
If heaven could be bottled, it would taste very much like this. Boplaas have created a bottle that has a very dark colour with crushed red berries on the nose, exotic spices and superbly balanced citrus tang and sweetness – no hint of cloying here. It finishes with a dry lingering aftertaste as if a gorgeous woman had just left the room. It’s a special treat at R415 per bottle.