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Potted Stilton – the perfect pairing for Port?
We’ve been tasting some excellent Port recently – and learning a bit more about one of those drinks many of us take for granted. I’m more used to drinking Port with a cheeseboard or with potted Stilton, but there are a lot more ways to enjoy this drink. The origin of Port, like many fortified wines, comes from the need to stabilise a normal wine in order to transport it by sea, often on long warm journeys. The export of Portuguese wines to the UK really started in earnest when, thanks to ongoing discontent between France and England, Charles II of England increased the duty on French wines and later banned their import altogether. Portugal was already a popular trading partner with England and the English wine trade began to look for Portuguese wines which they could ship. But, the warm red wines of the Douro Valley had to be shipped along the river then out to sea from Porto. Even at this stage, fortifying the wines using a little neutral grape alcohol or brandy was a practice intended to help stabilise the wine during its long journey. It wasn’t until the second half of the 18th century that the method of fortification used today, adding french grape alcohol or brandy before fermentation was completed, was widely introduced and Port, as we know it today, was born.
White port, which in this country is often kept as a summer aperitif and served with sparkling water, tonic or lemonade, can be a delicious drink in its own right. Made with white grapes from the Douro, the best white Port is now matured in wood, just like tawny or ruby port.
Kopke 10 years old white port is a delicious drink, both on its own as an aperitif and with cheese. We tasted it chilled to around 10c as an aperitif and even those who had been suggesting they wouldn’t want more than a taste ended up converted. A Robert Parker 90pt and Wine Spectator 92pt it has a lovely deep flavour which is easy on the palate and is honey-coloured in the glass. Fermented in stainless steel vats, the grapes are macerated with their skins on at between 16 and 18c. Fermentation is halted by adding grape brandy and the wine is created by blending different harvests, matured in oak casks with an average age of 10 years.
Kopke is the oldest Port Wine Company and was established in 1638 by Christiano Kopke and his son, Nicolau Kopke who came to Portugal as representatives of the Hanseatic League. We went on to try their Colheita 1999, a rich golden red colour port which was as popular as the white port with our taste panel. It did pair rather better with the Christmas Pudding than with the Cheeseboard. At £32.99 for a bottle dating from 1999, it seems remarkably good value.
All Colheita is single harvest and dated by the year of harvest, but can’t technically be called ‘vintage’ because rather than spending the majority of their lives maturing in bottle, Colheita Ports are matured in barrel. A tawny port, Colheita is aged in smaller wooden casks than its ruby cousin, which gives it a larger surface area to wine in the barrel. That, in turn, results in more oxidisation, a change in colour from ruby to tawny and lovely nutty caramel notes. It has to age for at least 7 years in barrel, but is generally aged for longer still.
By comparison, the Quinta do Noval 2005 Colheita seemed more delicate and less sweet. With the 2005 we were trying the first bottling – much of that harvest is still in cask, ageing for later bottling. Again, a wonderful caramel and nutty mouth and the perfect pairing with potted stilton and walnuts, the recipe for which I will share later.
Our final tawny port was a 20-year-old from Calem. Like the white port we’d tried earlier, this was a blend of different harvests with an average age of 20 years. It’s an award winner, with golds from Decanter and the International Wine Competition. Founded in 1859 by Antonio Alves Cálem, this port house has a rich history. It released its first Vintage Port in 1870 and has grown in reputation ever since. It’s probably best known to visitors to Porto because their winery in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south bank of the Douro River, is open to the public and attracts around 150,000 visitors each year.
If you still prefer that lovely ruby coloured port, then rather than looking for a Vintage Port, it’s worth trying what you will find labelled as LBV or Late Bottled Vintage. After 2 years of ageing at the winery, each producer can decide whether to declare a vintage. Only the best harvests will show sufficient promise at 2 years, but, unlike a true Vintage Port, Late Bottled Vintage is released 4-6 years after the harvest, by which time it will have spent about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports. That in turns means the producers can offer a port which is comparable to a true Vintage Port but at a much lower cost. the Quinta do Noval 2012 single vineyard LBV is a great example of just that. Quinta do Noval call it their ‘baby vintage’. It’s treated in exactly the same way as a Vintage Port, made from only noble grape varieties from the Quinta, trodden by foot and unfiltered. Currently available from Ocado at around £20 it’s a real bargain – and perfect for the Christmas table.
Meanwhile, if you fancy doing something more than just making up a cheeseboard (or if, like me, you get left with lots of bits of uneaten cheeses) here’s how to make potted stilton with walnuts – my perfect pairing for Port!
A simple way to make potted stilton. Perfect for using up leftover bits of blue cheese - or just to make for a quick lunch or supper
- 200 g Stilton
- 125 g Butter
- 2 tbsp Tawny Port
- 75 g Walnuts Reserve 2 halves for garnish, chop the remainder roughly
Crumble the stilton with your fingers or chop with a knife
Melt the butter
Put the stilton in a bowl with most of the melted butter and mix with a fork. Reserve about a quarter of the butter to top the dish
Add 1-2 tablespoons of Port. You should have a thickish creamy mixture
Stir through the walnuts, reserving 2 to top the ramekins
Put the mixture into 2 ramekins, pressing down to make a level surface
Top each ramekin with a walnut half and, if you have one, a fresh bay leaf
Pour over the remainder of the butter
Quinta do Noval LBV Unfiltered 2012 £22.50
Stockists: Ocado, Justerini & Brooks, Tannin & Oak, Whitmore & White, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Hedonism, Honest Grapes. Mr Wheeler
Quinta do Noval Colheita 2005 £50
Stockists: Ocado, The Wine Society, The Tipsy Merchant, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason
Cálem 20-yr-old Tawny £45
Kopke Colheita 1999 £32.99
Kopke 10-year-old White Port £45.00