When wine experts extol the virtues of vintage portits ruby glow, its silky texture, its harmonic convergence with Stiltonthey studiously avoid the one thing that I, a non expert, like most about it. Simply put: No other beverage in the world has the power to make me look like such a complete and utter know-it-all. With minimal time and effort, a wine-impaired person like me can learn enough about port to give the impression that he knows everything about itand, by extension, everything about everything.
This may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. Imagine we're at a restaurant, and the waiter brings by a dessert menu containing a daunting, recondite list of after-dinner drinks. I quickly peruse the selection of vintage ports and nonchalantly say, "Let's go for the Fonseca '77," or maybe, "Let's try the Dow '70," or, if I'm really in the mood to intimidate you, "None of these are drinkable yet." How impressed are you? You'll probably assume that I've studied vintage port for years, with periodic trips to Porto to check out the harvest firsthand. Depending on the persuasiveness of my performance, you might even think I've written a book or two about vintage port in my spare time. The truth falls somewhat short of that: Everything I know about vintage port I learned in six minutes.
I first encountered this Wodehousian beverage in, appropriately enough, a 17th-century English country house outside Chester. The house was a mansion-turned-hotel operated by a Brit who was, by his own description, a "Yankophile." As proof, at the end of each day he greeted me by waving a cowboy hat and regaling me with tales of his motor-home odysseys through Arizona. In other words, he was enamored of all the American things that an Anglophile like me would have absolutely no interest in.