Monday, September 24, 2018

Rant: Should You Drink Port Wine Before, During Or After Dinner?

Portugal Giving Up Port Making
OPORTO, Portugal (UPI) Portugal’s port wine industry turned sadly today to the task of developing a wine that tastes good served with soda, ice and salted peanuts. After centuries of turning out casks of port wine, the industry's leaders have decided that the jet age prefers almost anything to port, even sherry. "This idea of turning port into a sort of lemonade might seem like a crime of the greatest magnitude,” said Jose Correia de Oliveira, Portugal’s secretary of commerce. One of the biggest headaches the industry has is that port is an after-dinner drink. "It is very difficult for us to persuade the consumer to hold off drinking until after dinner,” Oliveira said."
--Madera Tribune (CA), March 9, 1960

The demise of Port? It was apparently a low time for the Port industry, though it raises an intriguing point concerning how wine may be viewed by the general public. If a wine is perceived only as an after-dinner drink, its consumption will be more limited than other wines that might also be drank as an aperitif or during dinner. In addition, not everyone may want to continue drinking after dinner if they consumed a significant amount of wine before dessert. After dinner wines, including dessert wines, generally remain as niche wines, and may struggle to maintain popularity.

When you think of Port Wine, do you think of it more as an after-dinner drink? Do you think of it as an aperitif too? Do you think of it when considering wine pairings for food (and I'm not referring to dessert courses)? I suspect that most consumers still think of Port as something you drink after dinner, maybe with chocolate, blue cheese or a cigar. Hopefully, that can change and consumers can be more open to drinking Port at other times as well.

Historically, it appears that such a change of view took place in certain spheres, helping to save the Port wine industry from its troubles. Seven years after the above newspaper article, there was an apparent turnaround and people began drinking Port wine as an aperitif, with France in the lead.

"Portugal Wine Usage Grows
NEW YORK (UPl)—More than 9 million gallons of port wine from Portugal were consumed throughout the world in 1966. and port, once considered solely as a dessert wine, is gaining popularity as an aperitif, reports a producer of port wines from Oporto. France is leading Europe in making port wine a fashionable aperitif, according to Sandemann Brothers. The firm estimates three-fifths of its world port sales now are for consumption as a before-dinner drink."
--Desert Sun (CA), September 26, 1967

In the U.S., Port wine seems to still be more of an after-dinner drink. And that is probably a significant reason why it is such a niche beverage, despite its recent slight increase in consumption. We need to educate people that Port is appropriate throughout the course of a dinner, from aperitif to after dinner. We need to show people that Port can be paired with a variety of dishes throughout the course of a mult-course dinner. That is more difficult as few restaurants host wine dinners that pair Port throughout the courses of a meal. Back in 2012, Legal Sea Foods hosted such a dinner and it was an enlightening experience. We need more restaurants to take this step, to help make it seem more normal to pair Port with dinner.

These issues plague other wine as well, from Sherry to Champagne, though you'll find more wine dinners featuring those two wines paired throughout the meal. Too many people think all Sherry is sweet, so it too is often seen as an after-dinner drink. However, local Spanish restaurants, and especially Taberna de Haro, have been educating consumers about Sherry, showing them that most Sherry is actually dry and pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Champagne is more often seen as a celebratory wine, and not something you pair with dinner, yet that too is slowly changing. The key to all of these niche wines is that they do not possess a single specific taste profile, but rather possess much diversity, and that diversity makes them more food friendly.

When I travel to Porto and the Douro region in two weeks, I'll be especially interested in gaining more information on Port and food pairings, which I'll share with my readers. However, I will call on my readers to be more open minded about these niche wines, and to experiment with food pairings. Don't see these wines as single-occasion wines, but rather see their versatility.

Port wine for breakfast, anyone?

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