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Wine and Food Wednesday
In Appreciation of Port

By Stephen Eliot

I grew up on the beaches of Southern California, an Orange County kid of the sixties. I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and, three days into the first winter, I knew without question that I would soon die. Well, I clearly did not, and discovered during my first Great Lake’s Christmas two important things. First, I was made of slightly sterner stuff than I first thought, and, secondly and much more importantly, that the discovery of real Vintage Port made all the shivering more than worthwhile. It was in the dead of that bone-chilling winter that I discovered the joys of true Vintage Port, and I still reminisce every holiday season about my miniscule flat and that very first bottle. It was a 1963 Fonseca as I recall; not expensive back then, and it wasn’t close to being ready, but it was quite unlike anything that this novice had ever encountered. Beginning that day, it has been a personal tradition to pull out an old Port on Christmas Eve…and reflect on all the years since. It is, for me, the consummate winter wine.

We tend to eat lighter on the day before Christmas and save the weighty stuff for the next day, but while Christmas-Eve dinner may not be heavy, I cannot imagine ending it without my late-evening bottle and the right cheese as a partner. A perfectly ripe Stilton, and December is the prime time by the way, is, has been and will remain a classic that has an uncanny affinity to Port, as do most every blue-veined variants from Rouqefort to Gorgonzola. The rich, relatively firm cheeses of Britain are also among my top picks. Cheshire, Double Gloucester, Wensleydale and a fine Farmhouse Cheddar all will make splendid partners to Vintage Port, and an accompanying handful of toasted walnuts will not be unwelcome. A recent favorite and the one that is at the very top of this year’s shopping list is the Fiscalini Farmstead Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar made by master cheesemaker, Mariano Gonzalez in Modesto, California. The Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar won “Best Extra Mature Traditional Cheddar” in the World at the 2007 World Cheese Awards in London, and, well, if the English know anything, they know Cheddar and Port.

The news today is that London is bracing for sub-zero weather and Heathrow is backed up as the mercury hits twenty below. I have no doubt that those in my long-ago home of Ann Arbor are feeling the chill as well. I wish them and all of our readers the very best for the holidays, and I will raise a glass on this Christmas Eve in thanks to you all. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good Port.

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