Monday, November 17, 2014

A Knight Of The Brotherhood Of Port Wine

"Port is the oil of good conversation."
--Adrian Bridge

When was the last time you enjoyed a glass of Port?

Port, which is also known as Vinho do Porto, Porto and Vinho Generoso, is basically a fortified wine produced in the Douro region of Portugal. It is a wine of diversity, depth, and deliciousness, one which many Americans don't properly appreciate. Port consumption in the U.S. is low so it is likely many of you rarely, if ever, savor a glass. To increase its popularity, consumers need to know more about it, to understand its wonders and delights. The myths and misconceptions about Port need to be shattered. Why deprive yourself of such a fascinating wine?

I've long been a vocal advocate of Port, and am also a Certified Wine Location Specialist, which concentrates on Port and Champagne. I wrote a four-part series exploring the history and origins of the Port region, and I have reviewed numerous Ports. At the wine store where I work, I have recommended different Ports of various customers. And for my advocacy and promotion of Port,I have received a great honor. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to whomever proposed me to receive this honor.

Last Thursday evening, I became a Cavaleiro in the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, essentially making me a Knight in the Brotherhood of Port Wine. This was the first time the Confraria has been in Boston in about ten years, and they inducted 13 new Cavaleiros that night. Around the world, there are currently about 1300 Cavaleiros.

Though the genesis of the Confraria extends back to the 1940s, they were only able to unite in November 1982, after overcoming a number of bureaucratic impediments. The Confraria is now headquartered in the Palácio da Bolsa (the Stock Exchange) in the city of Oporto. They have chosen their patron to be the Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu, who is better known as Henry the Navigator. He sponsored numerous maritime explorations, including of the coast of Africa, and rediscovered the Madeira Islands and located the Azores.

As the Confraria states: "The indomitable character of this great Portuguese Prince, who inspired the most extraordinary maritime voyages, is reflected in the traditional values and characteristic quality of Port Wine." The primary objective of the Confraria is to communicate, promote and reinforce the knowledge, reputation and honor of Port wine.

The Confraria is led by a Chancelaria (pictured above), a five person group consisting of the Chanceler (Chancellor and senior representative), the Almoxarife (Administrator), the Coperio-Mor (Head-Cupbearer), the Almotacé (Treasurer) and the Fiel das Usanças (Warden of Usages). All of the members of the Confraria are known as Confrades (Brothers), though women may be members as well, and there are various titles and ranks within the organization. For example, active members of the Port trade receive the rank of Mestre (Master), for owner or directors, or Experto (Expert), for managers.

There are also three ranks of honorary members, including Cancelário (Vice-Chancellor), Infanção (Nobleman) and Cavaleiro (Knight). The rank of Cancelário is given to Heads of State while Infanção is given to "notable people or institutions who make a significant contribution to the promotion and prestige of Port, of who otherwise merit distinction." The rank of Cavaleiro, which I received, is given to those who “have made a significant contribution to the understanding and prestige of Port Wine.

My honorary title was presented during an Enthronement Ceremony at the Omni Parker House, Usually, the ceremony takes place in Portugal, though sometimes the Confraria travels to other parts of the world. Prior to their trip to Boston, they held ceremonies in New York and Washington, D.C. The members of the Confraria were garbed in ceremonial dress, including red capes, black hats with wide brims, and a wide, silk ribbon atop the hat which winds around their neck. The Chancelaria members wear white ribbons while the other members wear black ribbons.

After we were led into the room, we sat down, waiting for our name to be called to receive our honor. The Fiel das Usanças read out each name, mentioning their primary role, such as writer, sommelier or importer. My name was called out first, and I stepped forward atop the stage.

The Chanceler placed a green and red ribbon around my neck. From the ribbon hangs a tambuladeira, a traditional Port wine tasting cup from the 17th century. It is a similar type of tasting cup as you see some sommeliers wear at high-end restaurants.

After receiving the ribbon and tambuladeira, I signed the Book of Honour.

This is the Book of Honour, with signatures of most of the new Cavaleiros. After signing the book, I was handed my diploma, encased in a cardboard tube of sorts, which was signed by the Chanceler and Almoxarife, When I later opened the tube, I also found that it contained a neck tie, with the Confraria symbols on it, and a stick pin, also with the Confraria symbol.

After everyone else was called to the stage, and we were back in our seats, we all swore a vow, while holding a glass of vintage Port (pictured above). Our vow was  “I swear to give my support to the Confraria and to continue fighting for the honor of Port Wine."

In addition, soon after the vow, we also made a toast, which is always done at the end of all Confraria ceremonies.
"For Port Wine
For The Confraria
For The Confrades."

Here I am with the Chanceler, George Sandemann. We had an interesting talk about Port, Portuguese table wines, and even whiskey.

"All wine would be Port if it could."
--Portuguese Proverb

After the ceremony, we had dinner, drinking a variety of Portuguese table wines and Ports, including more of the Niepoort Vintage 2005 Port as well as the superb Ramos Pinto Vintage 1983 Port.It was an evening of stimulating conversation and excellent wines, I feel greatly honored to have been inducted as a Cavaleiro, and will do my best to live up its expectations, to protect the honor of Port wine.

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