By Andrew P. Morris & Roger Hale
Any Port … (Part 1)
Occasionally life produces moments of rare good fortune. Not so much some sort of humungous lottery win, but a far more modest affair. Something, well, nice. Something unexpected. Whilst moving house, recently, a bottle of dusty port, that had been long nestling at the back of a cupboard under the stairs was rediscovered. Closer inspection revealed that it was a bottle of Dow’s Jubilee Port. Potentially very drinkable. However, a date of 1887 suggested that further advise was required.
It was at this stage that opinions were canvassed from the Buckland Club Committee. Those in the know were enthusiastic beyond belief. This was indeed a rare and valuable commodity, requiring careful handling – in every sense. It was potentially worth hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds should the right buyer be located.
Fortunately, our President knew of such a collector – a personal friend, no less. It seems prudent to entrust the honest broker with the sale of this rare family heirloom. If a suitable price was gained then there would, of course, be a drink in it.
Months passed, and the news was not quite as promising as first suggested. A private purchase was, after all, not on the cards. Dealers and experts were hardly queueing around the block. Still, all was not lost, and a sale was surely around the corner. Queen Victoria’s anniversary tipple was in safe hands.
Time passed, and as the world locked down there were more pressing concerns. It was the esteemed Harlan Walker, no less, who once told me that it was during desperate times that a gentleman would consume the finest bottles in his cellar. Little did I comprehend the wisdom of his words.
The first hint that events had taken a new twist was a very refreshed phone call from Birmingham, late one Saturday evening. The port was, apparently, fabulous. A truly remarkable vintage, gushed the caller, crystal clear with a terrific nose. My heart sank, before I imagined Harlan chuckling at the utter predictability of events. After 133 years I can think of no better outcome. Queen Victoria herself would have been amused.
In his defence, Roger maintained that slight seepage left him with the quandary of whether to drink, or not to drink. There was to be no outrageous fortune to be earned, but no matter. The Buckland Club is all about gastronomic experimentation and discovery. If William Buckland survived eating the heart of a king, it seemed fitting that the drink of a queen was also consumed with suitable relish.
Any Port … (Part 2)
Have you knowingly eaten of an extinct species? I cannot claim to have done so but feel that I have come close: tasting a pre-phylloxera wine, in my case, a Dow’s tawny port of 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
This curiously asymmetric bottle, probably a late Rickett’s Patent 3-part mould bottle, must have been standing upright for decades, maybe all its life. Clearly the seal could not have been perfect because, although there remained vestiges of the wax sealing the cork, ullage was massive, below the top of the label. In the opinion of our friend Geoffrey Luff, known to many Buckland members for the memorable Dîner Tourangeau at the Woodmen of Arden and for presenting a luncheon in the Cave de Grand Mont in Bourgueil at which we ate pig from the nose to the tail, the level was too low to be of interest at a wine auction and the contents likely to be very oxidised.
What to do?
For several months, it stood on a shelf near my desk, daring me to open it. Thinking that it would be better for my peace of mind if it were out of sight, I laid it down in a temperature-controlled cabinet and forgot about it for several weeks.
One day, pondering which cork I would pull to accompany supper, I noticed what looked like condensation around what remained of the wax seal. On further examination, it was evident that the cork was not making a perfect seal. The time had come to find out what toxic liquid lurked inside.
Drawing the cork was surprisingly easy: no wonder! From decades of vertical storage, it had become completely desiccated and had shrunk away from the neck completely, except for where the wax had clung to the cork, forming a precarious and slightly porous seal.
Imagine my astonishment and delight when the contents emerged crystal clear, gorgeous amber and gold, smelling of caramelised orange, cedar wood cigar box, candied peel and much more and tasting wonderful. It carries its 133 years lightly and I can think of only one good reason for it not to enjoy 133 more………..