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Thursday, 5 December 2013

A Night on the Port!

Things started quite simply. My mate Colin’s other half was away for a few days, and he was under strict instructions to attentively look after the dog. I on the other hand, had explained to my wife that our friend was obviously lonely and that I should keep him company. She agreed.
We of course interpreted the dog instructions, & approval of companionship, as an opportunity for a boy's night out. - We chose the Port Tasting Night at The Cave.
click image to enlarge
As we set off for the village centre our pace was moderate, on the basis that walking isn’t our favourite hobby. We however covered the 10 minute journey in around 15 minutes.
This did not include the couple of minutes we spent admiring the massive Christmas Tree on Milford on Sea village green. Simeon and his team from Aubrey Farm had done an excellent job, erecting a monster of a tree for us all to enjoy, and then Ray & Bob had put on the lights. Ellis Hairdressers again has a wonderful Christmas themed window, and many of the village shop decorations were twinkling away in the night sky. Romance was in the air, but we decided not to kiss.
We were warmly greeted at The Cave, and before the evening commenced I warmed up with a perfectly chilled glass of Leffe Belgian beer, and my cohort had some warm real ale which he apparently found impressive and I saw as pointless.
The Cave has three long wine tasting tables, and these were lined up with various glasses and a detailed list of the Ports to be tasted this evening. There was also a glossy Ramos Pinto leaflet explaining the appropriate serving temperatures, storage advice and suggested glass shapes for each type of port, there was also exotic suggested paired food dishes which best complemented each port. I intend to pass this onto my wife as dining suggestions for next week, but have to say; I don’t fancy my chances!
Plenty of people were in The Cave having a social drink or coffee, when quite quickly, the ‘Tasting Night’ crowd arrived from all directions. As we all took to the tables, the group was a mix of couples, and groups of mates, who did not know each other, but soon everyone was chatting and introducing themselves. After all, we all had a hobby of drinking in common!
I am sure several people hoped we didn’t sit at a table with them, but unfortunately Sylvia & John and Wyn & Roy were unlucky. We hadn’t met before, but very soon we were enjoying their company and they were wondering why they had made the mistake of sitting on the same table as us.
Our host Jon, introduced us all to our expert for the evening; Mark Leveson-Gowers. Mark is the Director of Maisons at Marques et Domaines, a company formed by Louis Roederer champagne house. As Mark spoke it was evident he was well bred and had a warm and engaging personality. His Passion for Ports was immediately obvious, as he told us how Port is made from red grapes. The process is very similar to the making of wine. However, the fermentation stage is ended earlier by the addition of a clear brandy, which ends the fermentation and retains the sweetness.
This has now become my new 'favourite fact', relegating my previous 'favourite fact' that, the city with the 6th largest number of French inhabitants is London.
The evenings proceedings started with a couple of Portuguese wines to set the palate. They were interesting, but the main event was soon with us – the Ports!
First served was the least expensive, RP Adriano Reserva NV, a white Port. The gathering were enthralled by the unexpected explosion of taste. Technically this was described as ‘well integrated with gentle tannins & a soft elegant finish’, we simply thought it tasted great, and at £14.90 seemed a good price for something a little bit special.
Next we moved to the more traditional Red Port. Mark explained the making process which we found interesting. All of Mark’s Ports come from red grapes which go into stone troughs and are then foot trodden to crush the grape skins into the juice, the more the crushing, the richer the colour. Bearing in mind we were by now chatting, drinking and not paying full attention, this may need checking on a proper website. Oh, I forgot to mention bread and Cheddar cheese was also served with this Port.
We moved then onto the PR Collectors Ruby Port NV, which was the same price as the White Port. Again the rich flavours did not disappoint as our taste buds gratefully bounced around in glee. Mark described the Douro Region of the Ports origin, its perfect climate and spectacular landscapes. We simply drank and enjoyed the full glass with the Brie cheese now in front of us.
We next received a generous tasting of the RP Late Bottle Vintage 2008. Mark explained the story of the LBV, which was something to do with bottling being late. As you will now notice, I was more focused on tasting than listening. The Port itself was served with Dorset Blue Vinny on a cracker. The LBV Port immediately gave a warm satisfying glow, and we also realised that we were also particpating in an unadvertised ‘Cheese Fest!'.
At this stage I decided to wander the other tables. Everyone was very friendly as they engaged in conversation. No idea what we chatted about, and pretty sure they thought they had just met the village idiot as I moved on.
Our next tasting was Ramos Pinto Vintage 2000 at £35 a bottle. The refined taste was immediately evident and enjoyed. Port is a delight at any level, but this one took a step up and was a treat to taste. The accompaniment of Roquefort cheese on crisp toasts went perfectly. Apparently we learnt, all Ports are ideal to be ‘laid down’, and by this stage a lay down sounded a pretty good idea.
The final tasting was a PR 10 Year Old Tawny with chunks of Comté and Piemonte cheese. Both were a delight and it re-confirmed my long-term belief that there is not much better in life than an evening with Port & Cheese. Mark explained that Tawny Port is made by vestal virgins, using the elixir from the gods, with the grapes trodden barefoot by a Pearly King from the East End and a donkey in clogs. (I think I may not have been listening clearly at this stage, and possibly drinking slightly too much!)
At £12.50 a ticket for the Port Tasting Evening was like an early Christmas present. The value was excellent, the learning fun, and the company great.
Milly enjoying another
hilarious comment!
Obviously, after such a good evening it was now a sensible time to go home - so, not being of the sensible types, we decided to move the two yards to Sam's Bar for a nightcap.
Soon a number of locals we did not know were gathered and we all chatted merrily, having quite a giggle about the night, sharing a couple of jokes and basked in the general warm humour good Port creates. Our charming barmaid, Milly, was enthralled by some of the hilarious stories, although she pretended not to be!
We eventually noticed the time, and realised we were now in the wrong place according to our other half's.
I have no idea how long our journey home was, but I do know that we still somehow resisted a kiss under the twinkling village Christmas Tree, and our direction wasn’t particularly straight. We then spent most of the time on our walk home working out excuses for our lateness for my wife and Colin's dog.
Fortunately for Colin, his dog was pleased to see him when he got back!

The Cave run all sorts of tastings on International wines and beers throughout the year, each is hosted by an expert who will expand you knowledge and give you an evening to remember. It is certainly worth keeping an eye on their website in the new year to see what events are planned.
We also now know where we will be buying our Port for Christmas, and as their wine selection, gift box selection looks just as good, there could be quite a few bottles on the way to our place to be emptied before the New Year!
The Cave
2 Church Hill, Milford on Sea, SO41 0QH
01590 642195

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