Last Week I had the opportunity to travel to Portugal for the first time. In a handful of days I felt fully engrossed in the food, wine and culture of the country. Over the next few weeks I’ll take an occasional, and in-depth, look at a number of the experiences I had while visiting this charming and beautiful country. The wines, the food, the scenery and the people were each beautiful and welcoming in their own way. So please sit back and enjoy. When it comes to Portugal, naturally the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is Port. These legendary wines can last more than a generation in great vintages. But of course there are so many other iterations which are distinct from Vintage Port. From Ruby Port, to Tawny and Late Bottled Vintage the styles and variations are many. While visiting Portugal I spent a significant amount of time at Sandeman Cellars. This is one of the classic Port Houses. I'll speak more about some of the specific wines in another story. This time I want to talk about something that was a reasonably fresh idea to me; that is the use of Port Wine for cocktails. The idea wasn't entirely new to me but I hadn't spent more than a little time thinking about it before this trip. Left to my own devices wine of one style or another is usually my alcoholic beverage of choice. So the idea of cocktails that include tasty ports appeals to me greatly.
Throughout last weekend I had the chance to not only spend time thinking about it and tasting cocktails made with numerous styles of Sandeman Port, I got to do some mixing myself. In a sense it was full immersion into Port based cocktails. From lunch on my very first day in Portugal right through pre-dinner cocktails on my last night I sampled more cocktails based on Port than I had ever imagined existed, let alone tasted.
The highlight of the Port based cocktail experience, for me, occurred several hours before dinner on Saturday. Along with the other folks I was travelling with, Sandeman Cellars treated us to a couple of hours with a Mixologist. This took place in a classroom/laboratory like setting within the Sandeman facility in Porto. Our teacher so to speak was an engaging fellow named Kiko. He took us through the basics of making cocktails using three classic methods. Along the way he showed us some recipes that incorporated Port of course. And then the real fun began. Our group was broken up into teams of two. Each team was given 45 minutes to come up with an original cocktail. The only rule was that it should contain one of the Sandeman Ports at our disposal. After an initial recipe my teammate and I attempted, flopped miserably, we raced the clock with only 10 minutes left. At that point my teammate James and I decided to base ours on 10 Year Old Tawny Port. To this we added simple syrup, muddled in some nectarine and topped it with Champagne. For garnish we added a strawberry and nectarine slices. Considering our original failed experiment and the minimal time we had, I think we did OK. The judges seemed to agree as we took 2nd place for what we dubbed The Sandeman Metro.
What was most incredible to see and taste is how many divergent flavors one can get from a handful of simple ingredients. Kiko impressed upon us that most of the things in our kitchens should be considered fair game for making a drink. After having this experience I for one feel a bit invigorated. My intent is to experiment further on my own and make cocktails with Port for friends and family going forward. Additionally I feel empowered, encouraged and most of all excited to share this experience with others. I've been drinking many styles of Port for most of my Adult life, but never seriously considered the adaptability of it as a cocktail base. And as a wine lover I'm enchanted by the idea of having wine parties at my home where I served port based cocktails. In a sense it'll be a way to have the best of both worlds.
The range of possibilities is staggering, if you think about it. Port can be mixed with Fruit, spices, sodas, vegetables, hard liquor, and Champagne to name but a few. The Sandeman webpage has recipes for quite a few cocktail tailored specifically to the nuances of their Ports. Not every Ten Year Tawny or Late Bottled Vintage is created equally, so keep that in mind when trying these cocktails at home. Most of all though, after trying some of these recipes, make them your own. Twist and turn them with your own nuances, or start from scratch and come up with some that are uniquely yours. If you come up with a winner, please e-mail it to me, I'd love to try something new. One of my personal favorites is the Sandeman Royal. This blend of 20 Year Old Tawny and 12 year old Scotch epitomizes how simple some of the drinks are to make. Whether you enjoy it on its own or make a cocktail with it, drink more Port. For me Ports are amongst the greatest wines in the world, I'd love to see more folks discover them and then enjoying them regularly.