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It’s difficult to speak in general terms about port. The fortified wine from Portugal that counts as one of the world’s oldest wine styles comes in a variety of colours and offers a diverse range of flavours, from syrupy sweet to older examples with nutty and toffee notes.
One unifying theme that grips the dynamic array of port wines is they are all underrated, which is why many port houses have embraced cocktails to make their wares more approachable.
I’ve long been a fan of tawny styles of port, which are aged in wooden casks before being bottled as 10-year-old and 20-year-old expressions (older styles, notably 30- and 40-year-olds can be found in specialty shops). But the powerful flavour of deeper and darker ruby ports has impressed me recently. These younger and fresher styles are a versatile ingredient for cocktails. (There’s an equally appealing repertoire of recipes for tawny port cocktails as well.)
Served cool, or chilled, in a red wine glass, an ounce of port helps to warm one’s spirits from the inside out. An open bottle of port will keep in the fridge for weeks, which will take you through a good chunk of the festive season, when there’s often occasion for a special aperitif or a cocktail that is easy to make and appreciate.
Using port for cocktails isn’t new. Vintage bartending manuals often see port used interchangeably with other fortified wines in classic cocktails, say, as a substitute for vermouth in a martini or Manhattan. Some of my favourite, easy to assemble port cocktails are featured here. More innovative and intricate recipes can be found at portcocktails.com
Two parts rye to one part ruby port and a dash or three of orange bitters. Combine ingredients over ice in a rocks glass; garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Two parts ruby port to one part vodka and ½ ounce of cranberry juice. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir (at least 30 seconds) until chilled and then strain into a martini glass.
Port Coffee Martini
Two parts tawny port to two parts cold brew coffee, with one part Irish crème liqueur. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, then strain into a martini glass.