Back in the day port was regarded by the British gentry as the eminent pre and after dinner drink, but as times have changed, so have the ways we think of this classic and stylish drink, and today port is regarded as a special celebration of life and is enjoyed throughout the year and at every occasion.
But what is port? Well, it is a fortified wine, typically red and sweet but also produced as a white dessert wine (and even in pink!), that comes in a number of styles. It has its origins in the Douro Valley of Portugal, but Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo, the Port Capital of South Africa, today is regarded with equal respect for producing port-style wines equal to the best that comes from Portugal.
“Port epitomizes the conversational wine,” says Boets Nel, co-owner and winemaker at De Krans Private Cellar just outside Calitzdorp and one of South Africa’s leading producers of port-style wines. “You cannot gulp it. You enjoy it slowly with family and friends. And it complements any occasion.”
Boets says the perception that port-style wines can only be enjoyed before or after dinner and that it is limited to the colder winter months is completely wrong.
“At De Krans, for example, we make port wines in different styles so that they can be enjoyed throughout the year and at every occasion. White and pink ports are ideal appetisers and can also be enjoyed chilled or over ice in the warm summer months. Our De Krans Pink Port, for example, is doing exceptionally well, especially among the ladies and the younger generation of wine lovers that have not yet discovered the wonderful world of dessert wines.”
And these dessert wines also work extremely well with food. A Cape Tawny, for example, is the perfect partner for brown onion soup, loin of pork stuffed with dried fruit, rib-eye steak or a selection of fine cheeses. As a matter of fact, Boets says he has also served it chilled with prawns prepared in a light Malaysian style. We always have a bottle of our Cape Tawny in the fridge, among others!
Boet also suggests the following pairings:
Cape White: with snoek patee or fresh goat’s milk cheese (feta or chevre) in phylo pastry, or any salty or light cheese tart;
Cape Ruby: with a chocolate mousse cake or a chocolate or strawberry mousse;
Cape Vintage: with a rich meat dish like ox tail (or use ostrich neck) or any other red meat with a rish sauce. Also perfect with springbok with a berry/fruit sauce cooked in Cape Vintage.
Cape Vintage Reserve: with blue cheese, or any other strong-smelling cheese (like gorgonzola). Also perfect with dark, bitter chocolate.
In England people still enjoy a cocktail of the lighter, fruitier Cape Ruby with lemonade, while the heavier port wines, like the Cape Vintage, are ideally enjoyed with cheese platters.
Carel Nel of Boplaas, another of South Africa’s renowned port producers, explains that a well-chilled Cape White can accompany Spanish tapas, aromatic Asian cuisine or even a roasted chicken, while a Cape Ruby can be served with traditional Cape bobotie, waterblommetjie-bredie, hearty soups or rustic pastas, but it will be equally enjoyable with chocolate based deserts and fine coffee.
“Cape Vintage and Cape Vintage Reserves are robust, full-bodied and complex dessert wines that can either be enjoyed in their fiery youth or aged for a decade or two. A young Cape Vintage can easily accompany a Karoo lamb potjie, venison pie or roasted vegetable lasagne, while a Cape Vintage Reserve works superb with venison, wild fowl and hearty traditional fare.”
It is clear therefore that port-style wines are much more versatile than they are given credit for and certainly not limited to desserts and coffee only.