Few classic vintages carry as much heritage as port. A great addition to the table of any dinner party and a natural accompaniment to a cheese board, it's pivotal to understand how port should be shared and imbibed. We need to look back to classic nautical practices to understand this!
Firstly, port should always be decanted and placed in the middle of the table, to the right of the host. From there, tradition dictates that the glass of the guest to your right is filled, then the bottle passed to the left. Are you seeing the naval theme yet? Port is, of course, the nautical left to starboard’s right.
This is a ritual known as Pass the Port. Has the guest to your neglected to pass the bottle? Outright asking for the decanter is a strict no-no under the etiquette of Pass the Port. Instead, you will be expected to use a popular code.
Ask the guest to your right if they know the Bishop of Norwich. Any port enthusiast familiar with the drink's heritage will understand this question. They'll immediately recognize their faux pas, and hand over the decanter.
If they answer no, or look at you quizzically because you're dining in East Anglia and they are the Bishop of Norwich, reply that he's a lovely chap but always forgets to pass the port. This gentle reminder is a socially acceptable way to restore the vintage to its regular rotation!
This stems from the legend of Harry Bathurst, who held this clerical title between 1805 and 1837. Evidently His Excellency spent many late nights conversing with the Almighty, as he was prone to dozing off at the dinner table. It’s hard to know which is more offensive – the sleeping, or the wholly avoidable delay in handing over the port.
Pass the Port should continue until the decanter is empty. Port, whilst delicious, loses its lustre when exposed to oxygen for a prolonged period. Saving the bottle for later is a fool's errand, and one that will leave both you and your guests unsatisfied.
Happily, you will not necessarily need to break the bank for an excellent port vintage. Whilst aged bottles that date back to 1970 are obviously wonderful, 2016 was a fantastic year for port.
If you can pick up a magnum of this vintage, so much the better for enjoying long into the night. Less is never more where a fine port is concerned; it's simply impossible to have too much of a good thing!