Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Anything to do with Port.
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JacobH
Quinta do Vesuvio 1994
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Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by JacobH »

Many very early mixed drink recipes, such as Bishop, Negus, Flip and so on call for Port or can be made in a Port variation. However, something that often troubles me is what the “Port” should be.

I think it is fairly clear that fortification was a process that was invented for export purposes and that it also developed slowly. I think the first experiments with fortification were by the shippers who would buy dry wine from the Douro and fortify it in Vila Nova de Gaia immediately before shipping. I have read that this was partly because the barrels of spirit were valuable and they didn’t want to risk sending them upstream to the Quintas (presumably because of the dangers of the journey or because they didn’t trust the farmers). I don’t know whether moving the point of fortification up-stream to the Quintas happened at the same time that wine-makers started fortifying to arrest fermentation but I assume not since those of us fortunate to try some 19th Century Ports have noticed that they are often off-dry to a reasonably late period.

I appreciate that in the 1840s James Forrester was complaining about fortification in general and advocating a return to unfortified wines. I presume there is no reason to doubt that what he had in mind was something like the Douro table wines which we can, happily, enjoy today in addition to the Port. But I also get the impression that he was very much howling into the wine since there aren’t that many references to unfortified Port in other books about the mid-19th Century.

I think when this happened is important for historic recipes. For example, I once tried a hot Port-and-chocolate drink which claimed to be made from a 18th Century recipe. With modern Port, it was undrinkably sweet. Re-making it at home with dry table wine improved it considerably.

I also think Forrester was probably complaining about earlier experiments with fortification which were much less refined. For example, one sometimes encounters a suggestion that excess spirit should be burned off the Port. I think it is possible, just about, to get something at about 20% ABV to ignite but it is not very easy and I wonder why anyone would bother. It makes me wonder if they were fortifying to a higher ABV? I suppose this isn’t a big issue since the burning off of alcohol would bring the ABV down to modern strengths. However, I also wonder what they were using to fortify. I presume it was produced locally rather than abroad, as now. I wonder if it was pomace brandy (like grappa) since this uses up the by-products of wine making and which would impart a strong flavour to the wine.

All of this leads me to wonder what we should use for historic cocktail recipes in lieu of the modern stuff? I think for any really early recipes (although I am not sure how many there are) we should look to modern Douro table wines. But for the 19th Century? Say 1827 (when Oxford Night Caps was published) or 1862 (the date of Thomas’ “How to Mix Drinks”)?

I am not sure anyone makes anything like this any more so perhaps we should think about reverse-engineering historic Port from other fortified wines or spirits?

Any thoughts?
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Alex Bridgeman
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Re: Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

The style of Port before fortification was - from what I understand - a big, tannic, dark wine.

Are there any modern cocktail recipes that use this kind of wine as an ingredient?
Top Ports in 2023: Taylor 1896 Colheita, b. 2021. A perfect Port.

2024: Niepoort 1900 Colheita, b.1971. A near perfect Port.
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JacobH
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Re: Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by JacobH »

Alex Bridgeman wrote: 12:18 Sat 18 Feb 2023 Are there any modern cocktail recipes that use this kind of wine as an ingredient?
Interesting question. I can’t think of any. The most popular wines for use in cocktails are champagne and other sparkling wines. There are a few which use still white wine (e.g. a kir) and sherries have become popular with contemporary mixed drinks.

The only red wine drinks I can think of that are regularly made are the Northern European heated spices ones (e.g. mulled wine, Glühwein, Glögg etc.) and Sangria, although that’s really a punch rather than a cocktail.

Looking around, apparently a mixture of a cheap red wine and a soft drink is popular in parts of Spain which I think might not be as terrible as it sounds, assuming you use the right soft drinks!
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MigSU
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Re: Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by MigSU »

JacobH wrote: 10:23 Mon 20 Feb 2023 Looking around, apparently a mixture of a cheap red wine and a soft drink is popular in parts of Spain which I think might not be as terrible as it sounds, assuming you use the right soft drinks!
Tinto de verano!
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JacobH
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Re: Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by JacobH »

MigSU wrote: 11:12 Mon 20 Feb 2023 Tinto de verano!
I had no idea this was a thing, although I suppose Port and Lemon (a shot of ruby port diluted with a fizzy lemon drink) was a popular drink in British pubs in the mid-20th Century.
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Alex Bridgeman
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Re: Historic Port for Historic Mixed Drinks / Cocktails

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

I’ll speak up in favour of Port & Lemon, despite it being horribly out of fashion.

1/3 rd decent Ruby Port, 2/3rds good quality cloudy lemonade (I like Fevertree Sicilian lemonade) with plenty of ice us a lovely refreshing summer drink.
Top Ports in 2023: Taylor 1896 Colheita, b. 2021. A perfect Port.

2024: Niepoort 1900 Colheita, b.1971. A near perfect Port.
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