Port, port, port

“The sun, with all those plants revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if ithad nothing else in the universe to do.”

                                                                                                                                        – Galileo

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I’m not sure I’ll ever forget my first taste of port and the utter sense of surprise and pleasure that washed over me with that first sip. For some reason, I’d long equated port with sherry, a drink that I knew I didn’t like. (And no, I have no idea why I thought that.) But the raisin-y sweetness of a tawny port resonated with me and I learned the hard way that one has to watch carefully not to over-indulge… I think the only thing worse than a port hang over is a gin one.

So it seemed almost too good to be true last week when I read about a port tasting being hosted by Boston University’s Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center (how do I get a job there?!?!) and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto. (Quick aside: I don’t know who tweeted about this event, but that’s how I found out about it and I’m pretty glad I did. Thanks, social media!)

“More than fifty Portos will be available for tasting, with experts describing the highly complex demarcations required by the Portuguese government on every bottle, and the characteristics that distinguish each wine,” the event description promised.

At $25 a ticket, it seemed reasonable. However, I was delighted when I called BU the morning of the event and the guy on the phone said they’d just decided to forego the admission. I would get in for free. Heck yeah.

Having never been to an event at BU, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they be serving port in those little plastic cups usually reserved for cough syrup? Would it be full of college kids binge drinking? Would it be so crowded you couldn’t get near the servers? I oughtn’t have worried.

The event was held in the Old Fuller Cadillac Building, which used to be a car dealership and is now an art gallery of sorts. It was a great spot for a wine tasting, with lots of ambience and open space; plenty of room to move around, and lots to look at.

I checked in at the registration table and was given a short-stemmed glass by the student-type who was taking names. A couple spots down, an older staff person motioned to me and swapped out my glass for a more elegant, long-stemmed one, which suited me better. “Go for it,” he said.

My first stop was at a large table in the middle of the room where a cheese, cracker and pate spread was laid out. Since the tasting started at 5:30 and I hadn’t eaten since lunch, I thought it might be prudent to put a little something in my stomach. I’m glad I did- not only was the pate delish, I had no idea what lay ahead.

Overall, there were 17 tables in the room, each representing a different wine distributor. In two hours I only made it to five tables.  But each table had probably 5 to 7 wines on it. You do the math.  

P9240010 I tasted one of the first organic ports, tried several that were older than me and one that was older than my parents… I had tawnies and rubies (I’m a tawny fan by far!) and drank a few that weren’t ready to actually be drunk.

I have to say I was impressed with both the quality of the product that was served and the overall knowledge of the men and women serving it. Granted, I was swilling wine, but these people seemed to have Phd’s in porto.  I learned how the wine is rapidly fermented and then fortified, how ruby port is kept sealed while tawny port is exposed to oxygen and how port changes over time, its flavors going from angular to more subtle.

The crowd was mixed: old and young. People were friendly (how couldn’t you be with all that wine floating around?) and conversations varied from high-brow descriptions of vintages, to jokes about slipping particularly good bottles in pockets. My only complaint: two hours wasn’t nearly long enough to even make a dent in all the wines they were offering and BU people kicked everyone out promptly at 7:30.

You can find more information about upcoming BU food and wine-related events here. Given my experience last week, I’m certain I’ll be attending others in the future.

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