It’s winter, we’re in lockdown, things are looking pretty grim. The only thing left to do is eat.
Here’s the thing: you could sit in front of the tele consoling yourself with chocolate liquorice. Or gingerbread babies. Or Bouchee nougat… Actually, let’s just pause this now and go sit on the couch for a while. #brb
All fabulous, but after a while, you’re going to want to do something a little more interesting, a little more inventive. In lockdown, we need to DIY our own fun. Which is where port comes in.
Why do we always seem to forget about port?
Port is a medium-tannin fortified wine that’s been around since the 15th century when it was first produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley. That’s a lot of time to perfect your brew.
While port is made in many countries, if you want the authentic stuff you’ll be looking for “vinho de porto garantia” on the label. This ensures your port is made in Portugal.
Regardless of where it’s produced, port tends to be sweet – although some dry varieties of Port do exist, see below. The general notes are plum, musk, caramel, berry, bitter chocolate and butter. It’s heavy on the tongue and goes down sweet but with a bitter bite to finish.
Port in a storm
Sounds good, right? Even better, it’s traditionally drunk as an aperitif or dessert; which is to say it makes good drinking without needing an elaborate meal to go with. Matter of fact, port goes down a treat on any occasion, especially impromptu moments. Who hasn’t enjoyed a bottle late at night, when most guest have left but the party is really only just getting started?
We might not be able to gather with friends right now, but we can still gather with our nearest. Grab your partner (in person, or over Zoom), light the fire, and enjoy a cosy winter picnic with a glass of port and a bowl of soup. Times are tough, but port always provides a haven.
Four ports to call into
Here are three varieties you can pick up from bottle shop to heal your winter.
Niepoort Ruby – around $25
One of the cheaper vinho de porto garantia ports available, this is an easy drinking, fresh young port. It’s got a smooth palate with plenty of vanilla and raisin notes with an oaky finish. It’s pretty much the perfect choice for sitting around the fire having a yarn.
Galway Pipe – 12 Year Old Grand Tawny – around $40
South Australia’s Galway Pipe always delivers a quality drop at a decent price. This non-vintage bottle has been aged 12 years to enrich the intense raisin and fruitcake flavours. Syrupy on the tongue with a nutty rancio finish.
Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais Vintage Port – around $60
Cockburn’s has been making port in Douro for over 200 years, so you can rest assured you’re in good hands here. Their Quinta dos Canais port is made exclusively from Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes from an individual estate, so it’s an intensely-focused drop. This peppery, blueberry, spicy drop is an excellent place to start if you’re exploring “good port” for the first time.
Saltram Mr Pickwick’s Particular Fortified – around $75
This gem from the Barossa Valley is generally regarded as Australia’s finest tawny. It’s aged for about 21 years to bring out its distinctively deep rancio caramel nuttiness. Mr Pickwick’s is a warming, smooth drink that will bring a special end to any cold night.
Mushroom and port soup
Mushroom and port soup is a natural companion to a glass of good port. Pick up a cheaper bottle of port that still has rich body to make the soup. Either a Grant Burge Aged Tawny or Brown Brothers Australian Tawny (both under $20) would be ideal.
800 g mixed fresh mushrooms (oyster, button, brown, field, chanterelles, shiitake)
Good lug of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and chopped finely
1 handful picked fresh thyme
250ml tawny port wine
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoon mascarpone
1. In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, fry the mushrooms in olive oil for a minute, then add the garlic and onion. Fry for about two minutes, until the mushrooms start to soften and release water. Add the thyme and port and fry until the most of the liquid has evaporated.
2. Season to taste, then add the stock to the pan. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to a gentle boil and then simmer for around 20 minutes. Turn off the pan and allow the soup to cool slightly.
3. Using a hand blender, whizz the soup in the pan until puréed (you can cool the soup and put it into a stand blender if you don’t have a hand blender). Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil.
4. Add the mascarpone and stir to blend.
Serve with crusty bread and finish your meal with a glass of port.