In Lisbon, there is a Institute of Port Wine ( Instituto do Vinho do Porto). You can sit in comfortable chairs and taste different types or ports — drinking glasses of ports that are far more expensive than what you could order at home. Hushed conversations fill the room. This is a serious place.
One of the things I most like about the Institute is that they have descriptions not just of the individual ports but of the types of ports. White ports are different from tawny, tawny different from ruby; vintage different from late vintage different from blended. We ordered four, a white, a late-vintage tawny (1995), a twenty-year old tawny blended, and a ruby.
After I had had the equivalent of a couple of drinks (my usual limit for coherence — I’m a cheap drunk), my companion asked me what the wines said to me. I replied with stories.
The white, with its lightness, and its overtones of apple and pears: You sigh deeply, as you sit on the terrace at the Mountain Winery waiting for the Michael Buble concert to begin. The duck was completely on point, of course, and you are slightly warm and every-so-slightly sleepy. You look down to your second row seats, shrug, and order another glass of port. Love ya, Michael, but good port is good port. You can hear the concert just fine from here.
The 1995 late-vintage tawny: the breakup was, to put it mildly, brutal. After that final, awful, confrontation, which ended with him saying “I’m so fucking over you. I never want to be in this place ever again. Do what you want with my stuff” and storming out, slamming the door so hard the hinges bent, you decided to take him at his word. The Stoli and caviar, not to mention the aged Patron Reserve and Cuban rum smuggled into the country in the (now shredded to pieces) Louis Vuitton bag, down the drain. The satin sheets given to the homeless guy who sometimes lives at the corner. You find the port, and slide the cork out and smell the heady vapors emanating from the bottle. You pour a glass — your crystal, not his — and sit by the hearth. Antique cherry wood and vintage vinyl records make such a merry fire.
The twenty-year old tawny*: You’ve checked the pantry for the third time. Enough things to eat (and toilet paper and paper towels) and bottled water for three days, even if the power goes off. Then — and only then — do you turn the Weather Channel back on. They’ve run out of names, it seems: Snowpocalypse was a few years ago, and then Snowmageddon the year after that. You prefer Snoverkill, yourself, but TWC seems intent on using whichever of those awful human names that they have been slapping on winter storms so that they can seem as cool and scientific as the NOAA, who hand out hurricane names. Alvin? Aldo? Whatever. In any case, the graph shows lavender about fifty miles out, deepening quickly to what would otherwise be a very pretty deep purple hovering over your neck of the woods. 24″ expected in the next 24 – 36 hours. You are not going anywhere for at least a couple of days. You sigh, put on some Corrine Bailey Rae, and open up the port which you have been saving for a special occasion. This isn’t what you had in mind when you bought it, but at this point, any port — especially the best port — in a storm is a good thing.
The ruby: The little girl was scared. She could do something wrong. She could spill wine down her pristine white dress! Wouldn’t that be sacrilegious? Would God forgive her? More importantly, would her Grandma? That dress had been used for her mother’s first Communion, and her big sisters’ (all three of them) and she had no doubt it would be saved and handed down to Lisa’s eldest girl (since Carrie had had only boys). She stepped forward, hardly daring to breathe: “This is the cup of my blood,” the priest intoned, as the little girl inhaled the warm grapey vapors rising from the chalice. “Thanks be to God,” she answered in a small, trembling, voice.
*This is the wine we ended up buying and taking home. It is wonderful port.