Thursday, March 16, 2006


I do actually read the comments to my blog, which reminded me to add a bit more information about the dog-and-accordion busking I saw in Lisbon, and while I’m at it, I’ll throw in the quick tutorial on port, which I promised but didn’t deliver.

First of all, street performers are not uncommon in the touristy parts of Lisbon, even in late winter, but they are generally more along the mime vein. Having an Ian and a Spackle, however, I am definitely more interested in things involving dogs and accordions. This particular performance seems tailor-made for me. A boy, maybe high school-aged, strolls around the pedestrian streets playing Portuguese and gypsy tunes on a smallish red accordion. Perched on his shoulder is a Chihuahua, holding a tiny bucket in his mouth, in which to collect donations. This we saw at lunch; later on, we passed a different boy with a different accordion and a different dog—this one evidently in training—sitting in the middle of the promenade. I went to drop a coin in the dog’s bucket, and he kept bowing his head and not letting me, while the boy looked increasingly embarrassed and muttered at the dog. Finally, I dropped the coin in a hat next to the boy, and the dog rubbed lovingly up against my hand. The boy looked embarrassed and angry, but I told him I had a dog of my own, and his was very cute, and he seemed to be gratified. We found out from friends A&F (the Lisbon ones) that there seems to be an exploding trend all over the country of the dog-and-accordion show. Perhaps because trained monkeys aren't legal?

Port, a wine fortified by a grape spirit distilled from the same grapes as the wine, is much more complex and varied than the tawny, vintage, occasion ruby, and very occasional white styles we get here, including styles like lagrima (sweet white), colheita (single harvest but not a vintage), late-bottled vintage (aged in wood and bottled after it’s aged, like a tawny), and many more I can’t remember off hand, so I’ll focus on the ones we’re likely to get in stores here.

Vintage: This is a fruity port, which ages in the bottle. Store it in a cellar, if possible. Vintage ports are not made every year; only on particularly good years. Once a decade or so every port grape grower universally declares a vintage; usually, however, one grower will have a particularly good year and another won’t. A vintage port should be stored for at least 10 years, but can be stored much longer. 1994 was a universally good year; I have a bottle of that vintage in my cellar which I believe I bought for about $30 in 1998. It’s now sold for about $120. To serve a vintage, 24 hours before opening, stand it upright so the sediment can fall to the bottom (all wines should be stored on their sides to keep the corks wet). Open, decant into a carafe, and drink. Since vintage ports have had little exposure to air (being aged in glass), they are delicate and oxidize quickly. Once opened, a vintage port should be drunk within 4 days. This is usually not a problem for people.

Ruby and Tawny: These are basically the same. Both are aged in wood, and blended by tasters so that the character of each remains the same year after year. The main difference is that ruby is aged no more than about 3 years before it’s bottled, whereas tawny is aged up to 40 years in oak. The names refer to the color: since ruby is only in wood about 3 years, its deep red color hasn’t leached into the oak barrels. Tawny, however, gets paler, tawnier, with age. Ruby and tawny ports are not delicate and can be enjoyed for up to a year after the bottle is opened.

White: Dry white port is an aperitif instead of a digestif like the rest of the ports; it’s a little like sherry in that way. Serve this port (but only this port) chilled. Being white, it’s usually not aged (perhaps like the ruby, about three years tops). It does last a long time in the fridge, though.

My favorite cellar is CalĂ©m, which, yes, looks like my name, but is incredibly good and consistent nonetheless, producing rich, fruity ports that somehow manage to avoid being syrupy. Other good names are Ferreira, Taylor-Fladgate, and Ramos Pinto. I tend to avoid Fonseca and particularly Sandeman, which seem to have better marketers than wine-makers. Graham’s Otima 10 or 20 year in the clear bottle is drinkable, as well, and I admit I like how the bottle shows off the rich color.

And thus ends Europe.

No comments: