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by Fred McMillin
for December 28, 2000

 

For your last supper of the century...

Finish with A Flourish


 
1906 Ramos-Pinto Poster

1906
Ramos-Pinto
poster.

Yes, the year 2000 is the last year of the twentieth century, and I'm finishing it with the best last course I've found in that century. It's vintage port with Stilton cheese on water crackers.


The Wine

1880 (in a village on Portugal's Upper Douro River)—At night, groping our way through one of the side streets of the village by aid of a lantern, we arrived in front of a low one-storied edifice, whence shouts of laughter mingled with strains of music were issuing. The odor of fermenting mosto pervaded the air, indicating that winemaking was going on. The door being opened, we entered the dimly-lighted building. [Men were treading grapes in one lager.] The other lager was tenanted by treaders of the softer sex. A solitary musician fiddled away. Two damsels gifted high-pitched voices struck up a well-known song, forbidden by the Oporto authorities on account of its impropriety. Jokes were cracked and shouts of laughter followed. ... early British author Henry Vizetelly

Also in 1880 on the Douro— with action like that, 21-year-old Adriano Ramos Pinto started his own Port firm. He produced a premium Port called Adriano, and sold it to the lucrative South American market at twice the price of most of the competition.


A Shocking Innovation

His brother Antonio joined the firm in its 18th year. At the time, Portuguese publicity techniques were primitive. The brothers changed all that with a series of carefully-produced, rather racy posters (see 1906 example).

Today, the publicity is more conservative, but business is better than ever in spite of it, which we'll cover after discussing...


The Cheese—In the Beginning

The year is 1790.— Mr. Cooper Thornhill owned the Bell Hotel in the town of Stilton. Mrs. Paulet, his sister-in-law, sent him a wonderful cheese as a Christmas gift. It was so good that he immediately arranged to purchase all the "Stilton" she could produce.

Modern Stilton comes as a 14-pound wheel, nine inches thick. It should have a texture a bit heavier than butter, so you can spread it on water crackers. The blue veins should contrast clearly with the cream-colored body. (Caution: Compared to the Stilton I would buy in London, that for sale in the U.S.A. sometimes has become too old, dry, and overly strong.)

There's still time to purchase a moist block or slice from your cheese shop before New Year's Eve. Enjoy as the last course while waiting for the ball to drop at Times Square; serve it with...


Our Wine of the Day

1997 Vintage Porto by Ramos Pinto
The Vintage—"The 1997 is classic. One of the four best vintages of the last 40 years."...Wine Spectator.
My Panel On This Bottle—"Best Port tasted in several years. EXCELLENT."
Importer Contact—Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Michelle Armour & Amy Basle, (510) 286-2000, FAX (510) 286-2010
Price—$49 range


Postscript

Around 1700 England and France got out of step. England set up tariffs that shut down imports of French wine and replaced them with Portuguese wine. This inspired Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels) to pen:
Be sometimes to your country true,
Have once the public good in view.
Bravely despise Champagne at Court,
And choose to dine at home with Port.

Credits:
Sarah Bradford's The Story of Port

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 
 


 
 

This page created December 2000

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