Port: that rich, silky, heady elixir that’s been a staple of the British festive dining table for centuries. For many, a bottle of Port coupled with a fragrant array of cheese is the gastronomic highlight of Christmas day. But there are many different types of Port, and a whole world of cheese out there, so which Port suits which cheese? Is it all just about Stilton? Luckily as purveyors of fine cheese and Port, we have the answers! But first, what is Port and where does it come from?
Port is the most famous example of a fortified wine, which means that a spirit (a basic form of brandy) is added to fermenting wine, giving it an ABV of around 20%. When wine is fermenting, yeast is reacting with the sugar in the grapes to form alcohol. Normally this process is allowed to continue until all the sugar has been used and the wine is ‘dry’. When the spirit is introduced, it stops this process meaning there’s some residual sugar in the juice, hence why Port is sweeter than normal table wine.
True Port comes from Portugal and is born of three places: the Douro Valley, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The Douro is where the grapes get super ripe in the hot, dry climate. The Port then traditionally travelled down the Douro River to Gaia, where it matured before being shipped from Porto, which is right across the river. This ‘Vinho do Porto’ was anglicised as Port.
Taylors, Grahams, Warres. Ever wondered why there are so many British names on Port bottles? Well, as I’m you’re aware, a brief thumb through any history book will reveal our fondness for falling out with the French. Then as now, we loved our wine and unable to procure our beloved Bordeaux, we Brits looked to Portugal to slake our thirst. The big, rich wine of the Douro proved to be very much to British tastes, and had the added bonus of being fortified which negated the risk the wine spoiling during travel. Add a few advantageous trade agreements, and a long lived, profitable love affair was born.
Let’s set sail from Porto, making sure we’re home for Christmas, and the post turkey cheese board. Now, which Port for which cheese?!
To aid me in this quest, I’m going to use the Ports of Quinta do Noval. Heritage, quality, innovation, value for money: Noval have got it all. We’re big fans!
Cheese match - Creamy and full bodied such as our Brie de Meaux or Petit Camembert
On a very basic level, Port can be split into to two styles: Ruby and Tawny. Ruby Ports spend the first few years of their lives in huge barrels before developing for varying amounts of time in bottle. LBV and vintage Ports are part of this family, and though undoubtedly more complex, many people prefer the bountiful fruit of Ports labelled Ruby. Noval’s is bottled after three years in barrel, and is a remarkable medley of intense plum and cherry fruit with hints of date.
Cheese match – Powerful, piquant, rich and creamy Stilton like our Colston Bassett. Also try with the sinfully rich delights of our Brillat Savarin.
In 1958, by seeking to produce the quality of a vintage Port at a fraction of the cost, Quinta do Noval produced the world’s first LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage. LBV is a ruby port from a single quality vintage that’s aged for up to six years in the barrel before being bottled and released.
Noval’s LBV has lashings of fresh red fruits, black cherry, chocolate and dried fruit notes, particularly prunes and raisins before ending with a long, slightly nutty finish. This Port is unfiltered and will continue to age in the bottle.
The classic pairing of Stilton and Port is all about how the sweetness of the Port envelops the creamy, salty character of the cheese. Inviting our sweet, intense Dottato figs along to the party makes for an irresistible, gastronomic ménage a trois!
Cheese match - Firm, mature, intense cheese such as our Comté, Manchego or Barber’s Mature Cheddar
Tawny Port spends most of it’s life in smaller barrels call Port pipes meaning the wine is imbued with nutty, caramelised, dried fruit notes that come from the oak and get more noticeable and complex with age.
Noval’s 10 year old Tawny has vibrant aromas of walnut, dried fruits and spice. On the palate it is rich and smooth with ripe cherry, and crème brûlée alongside dried orange, sweet figs.
If you’re planning on spending an evening with some tawny port and one of the recommended cheeses, I implore you grace proceedings with a soupçon of our Quince puree. So good!
Tawny Port also marries ridiculously well with fruit cake and if you want to treat yourself, then for me the perfect partner for Christmas cake is the velvety elegance of Noval’s 20 year old tawny.
Of course all of these luxurious libations are just beautiful when enjoyed with nothing more than one’s own festive ruminations, but I must leave you with one last gem of a food pairing. Brandy truffle, encased in dried fig, enrobed in fine chocolate. Sound good? I describe to you our Rabitos Royale, chocolates that come from Heaven via Spain. They would go with all of the aforementioned Ports and are a Christmas essential in my house!