Thursday 2 October 2014

Filthy Port

So I'm talking to this bloke who reveals that he once owned a cottage deep in the English countryside, and that a previous owner of this same cottage was reputed to open a new bottle of port at the end of every day, consume half its contents for supper, before leaving the now half-empty bottle on the doorstep overnight. When he came down again in the morning, it would be to find that the bottle had been topped up to the brim with fresh cow's milk, delivered by the cowherd? Dairyman? At any rate, a man with access to fresh milk - and this port'n'milk mix was the erstwhile cottage-dweller's daily breakfast.

Absolutely true, this bloke (whom, it must be noted, I have never met before in my life) swears as much. And I want to believe in the port'n'milk breakfast concoction so badly that I go home and try it out. Apprehensively, of course, not wanting another Queen Victoria's Tipple near-death sensation, yet emboldened by a desire to screw around with some port, a drink I can now barely tolerate at any level, especially in the context of PK's crazed reverence for the stuff, his fantasy that we routinely dine at the High Table of Magdalen College, Oxford, killing bottle after bottle of the '63 Graham's. So I fish out some elderly and mainly ignored Ruby Port that we use for cooking, plus a bottle of milk. Half a small glassful of each mixed together, and my breakfast is good to go.

Drinkable? Well, yes, oddly enough, in a blackcurrant and raspberry yoghurt/smoothie kind of way. It's thick, unctuous, sweet, with an unexpectedly generous barf of alcohol at the finish. Kids would love it. Obviously, I can't get through more than a couple of sips before questioning my own sanity, and how anyone ever knocked off a bottleful at seven in the morning is beyond comprehension. But still. I gaze at it, watching the curds and whey separate out in drifting flocculence like a mackerel sky. Is that the acidity in the port prompting the change? How acidic is our port, now I think of it? Has it, effectively, become a sweetish vinegar?

Who cares? Port is there to be interfered with. 

All right, then. How many ways are there, to adulterate and denature port? Apart from this slightly kinky milkshake? After all, port abuse has been going on for years, all over Great Britain. Port & lemon used to be the Old Lady's Favourite; someone told me that you could mix port & Coke (really? Two undrinkable drinks in one? Really?); no. 2 son assures me that a Cheeky Vimto can be cobbled together from port and Blue Wkd; there are endless appalling cocktail recipes that call for port, I can't begin to describe them, although a Hangman's Blood, containing beer, port, rum, gin, champagne, just about anything, was a favourite of the late Anthony Burgess - novelist, polymath and world-class alcoholic - and sounds uncannily like a suicide note you can drink, I mean, you've got to respect it for that alone -

- And then it occurs to me, increasingly queasily, that port could provide the USP for a new kind of bar, a genuinely British-themed port cocktail/tapas nightmare: in which the punters sit around on old G-Plan furniture; relax beneath discreetly shaded fluorescent lights; drink from NHS toothmugs; and are surrounded by Union Jacks, redundant Photofits on loan from the Metropolitan Police, messages from the now-defunct UK Border Agency ('Go Home Or Face Arrest') and tea-bag advertisements.

The port-based beverages being dished out from behind the bar (made of surplus catering kit from Sellafield, ideally) take care of themselves, but the uniquely British tapas? A few possibilities float through my consciousness:

Pieces of fried egg
Miniature fish fingers
Pork pie segments
Baked beans
Chicken McNuggets
Digestive biscuits
Cheese footballs
Hand-selected peanuts

At which point I start to feel positively ill: the port'n'milk slurry clearly reminding me that there can only be one winner in drinking trials of this kind: the drink itself. Forget everything I just said about the port-themed tapas bar. No-one should have to consume this stuff, adulterated or otherwise. It is simply wrong.

I am now going to lie down. Goodnight, everybody.



  1. idea for bar name - "Listing to Port"

    1. Well, the crack editorial team at Sediment rather like that -

      Better, I think, than my idea: PORTion Control. An idea I have since reluctantly given up...

  2. I once travelled from Lisbon to Faro on an early morning train.
    It's a five hour trip.
    Or one bottle of port per person (a wine merchant recommended "a good breakfast port").
    Obviously there were natas. We weren't complete hooligans.

    1. Thank God for the natas, although I quail at the prospect of 5 hours' worth of morning port.

      I once took the train from Paris to Rome with my then-girlfriend, a full bottle of 3 star brandy and no air conditioning. I'll say no more than that


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