Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Port and the Regency

I have started this, so I will continue on alcoholic drinks in the Regency period. It is feeding my need for research as my progress in my book continues apace.

One of the BIG alcoholic tipples during the early part of the 19th century was -- port.
Port is shipped from Oporto and the grapes are mainly grown in the Upper Douro. The grapes aregrown by quintas or farms The ratio of Portuguese wine to Spanish was three to one in 1815. Until the 1820's pages of the Royal household were issued with a bottle of port per day. It was significant moment when it was changed to sherry but it wasn't until the 1840s that sherry drew level with port and finally the consumption of sherry overtook port in 1859. (According to Hugh Johnson's Story of Wine). One explanation can be the variety of upheavals and civil wars that wracked Portugal in the 19th century beginning in 1820.
Port had huge associations with the three bottle per day men (IE rakes) and the Temperance movement particularly targeted the wine. It was a fiery glassful. And there were almost as many styles of port as ribbons in a haberdasher's shop according to the journalist Henry Vizetelly in 1877. The one that stood out head and shoulders above the rest was vintage port -- in particular the 1820. Vintage port did have a dose of brandy added to it btw. Customers often chose and blended their own port.
The shippers, indeed most of the Port traders were dominated by the British, in particular by The Factory House. The Factory House still maintains its over 200 years old tradition of Wednesday lunch where a tawny port is followed by a glass of vintage wine. A wager is placed on which vintage and shipper. The first reference to tawny port is by Charles Dickens in 1844. Tawny is lighter in colour than the deep ruby red one traditionally associates with vintage port.
Cockburn's was founded in 1815 and W&J Graham in 1820, but the tradition of port goes back to the early 1700s.
Oh, and vintage port is one of the things butlers would have kept behind the locked cage in the wine cellar. It takes a long time to mature.


Ray-Anne said...

Hi Michelle, you have posted today on a subject close to my heart - I love port and have been to Opporto and sailed down the Duoro valley from the quintas. All port is essentially a blend of wine where the fermentation is stopped at a critical point by the addition of brandy. Results? A sweet wine - red or white - which has a high alcohol content, so does not deteriorate - which is then held in cask until bottled.
Yes, there are lots of different types - younger ones will have more wine grape fruit flavour/colour whereas vintage and tawny are defined by how old they are. 40 yrs is nothing [ I have some 1992 vintage which I cannot drink for at least another ten years] 20 yr old Tawny is my favourite.
The traditional shipping houses you mention are still going strong ! LOL -a very sober Ray-Anne.

Michelle Styles said...

Ray --Anne --

Lucky you to have been to Oporto and Duoro valley. It is on my list of places that I want to visit.

Really good port is fantastic. And yes, drinking the 1992 vintage would infantcide at the moment. In addition, it wouldn't taste right. So much better to wait and get the flavour.