Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Vintage Year for a Cheese Angel

In the early evening about two weeks’ ago, KT and I biked over to Jesus College for what turned out to be a delicious and entertaining event. It was a port tasting dinner organized by a local wine shop we like. As you may recall from our trip to Porto, we quite enjoy this strong, sweet fortified wine but even we weren’t prepared to drink as many ports as we did that night. In the end, we tried (I think—the memory is hazy) 11 ports and 3 wines—and KT had a new job (more on that later).

The host of the evening was a chap representing Graham, one of the biggest sellers of premium port (It's also the port company whose lodge we stayed behin in Porto--see picture on the old blog post). Most port is red but as people straggled into the hall, we started off with Dow’s Fine White port (Dow is one of Graham’s labels and unsurprisingly given the speaker, all the ports we had were from the company). With the host providing some background, we then sped through about 6 different red ports, including the varieties known as tawny, ruby, crusted, late bottle, and vintage. Vintage ports are produced from the grapes of a single year and a committee in Portugal, home of port, determines whether a particular year earns that honor (which skyrockets the price).

Next, after a mint julep made with white port, we moved onto dinner--by then everyone was in a good mood. To be honest, the food wasn’t that memorable. But we had 3 wines from Portugal (while it’s best known for port, its normal wines have improved a lot recently) and got to know those sitting next to us, which included two professors who were “wine stewards” at local colleges. This delightful-sounding job means that they buy the wine for the students and professors associated with the college—for use at dinners and for purchase at cheap prices. One of those stewards says his college’s cellar contained more than 3000 bottles—and he noted that Trinity College, the biggest here, has 14,000 bottles and spends around £3 million (around $5million) annually on wine! The other person of note we met was Dave, the chap who runs the cheese stall in the city centre market. Dave provided the cheese course for the night (picture at top) and the 3 he picked were spectacular, particularly the Glastonbury cheddar.

Some more ports followed with dessert, including the grand finale: Grahams 1977 vintage port. Unfortunately, to the dismay of the real connoisseurs, the magnum was slightly corked—the cork in the bottle had gone bad, subtly spoiling the taste. I have to admit I didn’t think it was bad—just not great.

What about KT’s new job? Well, she jokingly asked Dave if needed any holiday help at the cheese stall and he said sure, he could use another “cheese angel”. Given the amount of alcohol consume that evening, KT wasn’t sure if he was serious but she emailed him the next day and a week later had a “training” session to prepare her to work yesterday. Unfortunately, a rare snow storm struck here and Dave called to say business would be so slow he didn’t need her to stand out in the freezing cold for 8-plus hours. Oh well, perhaps another day my cheese angel will earn her wings. --JT

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