Port is popular during lockdown. I first noticed this on social media – lots of tweets and Instagram posts about the various ways to enjoy northern Portugal’s famous fortified wine – and checked it out with a couple of the big retailers.
Lizzy Unite, port buyer for Marks & Spencer, confirmed my hunch and more, saying: “M&S port sales have increased by 60 per cent since lockdown began. Sales of our 10-year tawny port have increased by 74 per cent and our new ruby port is also flying off the shelves.”
It’s not the same for smaller independent port shippers who have lost their restaurant sales, but even they report “unprecedented engagement on digital channels and interest in new virtual port tastings,” according to Zoe Graham, head of marketing at Churchill’s.
This may be a surprise if you view port primarily as a winter or Christmas drink. But we’ve had some chilly nights of late and, added to the strange circumstances all round, port’s strong, sweet and soothing qualities have appealed.
And the Douro Valley’s finest is much more diverse than many realise. A glass of red port fends off a late spring frost, but as we head into warmer weeks, try a white port topped up with cold tonic and ice, a sprig of fresh mint and salted almonds to accompany (ideally).
Then there’s tawny port which can benefit from a light chill. Tawny spends a lengthy period mellowing in oak barrels, emerging amber-hued, soft and smooth.
Enjoy it from the fridge with cold desserts based on chocolate, toffee or coffee flavours or just sip it cool as the sun goes down with a handful of dried fruits and nuts.
Marks & Spencer Ruby Port, Douro Valley, Portugal
(20%, £7.50 for 75cl, in store only)
A great-value ruby, made by renowned port winemaker David Guimaraens of Taylor’s for M&S. It’s lively, fresh and well-balanced with plum, almond and cherry fruitcake flavours. Drink at room temperature or slightly below with some cheddar and parmesan chunks.
Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley, Portugal
(20%, Tesco, £12.50 for 75cl, in store and online)
Another bargain, and winner of a gold medal in the 2019 International Wine Challenge. A delicious, smooth amber port with notes of caramelised oranges and spicy demerara sugar. Chill it on warmer nights.
Churchill’s Dry White Port, Douro Valley, Portugal
Orange-tinted and complex in flavour with barley-sugar, marmalade, almond oil and dried citrus peel mingling. You can drink this on its own, cold, or perhaps turn it into a long sundowner, Douro Valley style, with plenty of tonic and ice.