Pairing Graham's Port with food | The Rib Room

April 14, 2015

The Rib Room
In my family port is usually reserved for Christmas time, so when I was invited to attend a port and food pairing evening I was intrigued to learn more.

Having only paired port with Christmas pudding or cheese in the past, the evening included an eye opening 5 course tasting menu hosted by Graham's Port at The Rib Room, located on the ground floor of Jumeriah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge.

Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Contrary to popular belief, port doesn't contain any added sugar. It is naturally sweet due to how it is made: the fermentation process is stopped once brandy is added to the grapes 2-3 days after being pressed. This therefore reserves the sugar that would usually be turned into alcohol, giving the liquid a naturally sweet taste.

The Rib Room

We were greeted with a cocktail including Graham's 20 years old tawny port, Tanqueray gin, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon juice and raspberry jam. It was a huge success with diners (many of us asked for another) and served as a taster of the versatility we were yet to discover.

The tasting menu began with pan seared scallops, raisin purée, roasted cauliflower and a white port sauce. Whilst white port is rarely seen in Britain, in the Porto region sweet white port and tonic water is a commonly consumed drink. The sauce complimented the delicate scallops beautifully, and the contrast of sweet and savoury in the dish was a theme that remained all evening.

The Rib Room

The seared foie gras, glazed free range pork belly and fig jus was my favourite dish of the evening. Served with Graham's 10 Years Old Tawny Port it was rich, fruity and mouth-wateringly tender.

When a port is described as tawny, without an indication of age, it is a blend of wood aged port that has spent at least two years in barrels. Interestingly, when there is an indication of age on the bottle, usually 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years, it refers to the target age profile for the ports, not their actual ages.

pairing port with food
The roasted venison loin, buttered baby carrots and blackberry jus was served with Graham's late bottled vintage port. Unpictured above, a small slow cooked venison and Stilton pie was also served alongside - I'm not ashamed to say I helped myself to two servings (yes, it really was that good).

Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty whilst the war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.

Contrary to popular belief, Port was not created by British sailors spiking wine with brandy. More accurately, British importers believed a smooth, already fortified wine would appeal to Britain's sweet tooth, and coincidentally the addition of brandy made it possible for the drink to survive the long trip to London from Portugal without spoiling.

rib room dessert

For dessert we were treated to a cherry bakewell creme brûlée with dark chocolate sorbet. The sorbet was particularly interesting, as unlike ice cream no milk was used, therefore making the chocolate light and refreshing. Served with Graham's 20 year old tawny port (as featured in our cocktail), we were told the drink had lost around 50% of its original volume during the ageing process.

I was surprised to hear the wine producing Douro region is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after the Tokaj-Hegyalja region established in 1730, and Chianti established in 1716. Much like champagne, port is regulated by various bodies to ensure production regulations are adhered by.

truffle honey with cheese

We finished the meal with organic Stilton, quince, truffle honey and walnut bread. Served with Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port, the sweetest tipple of the evening, we were told it was Churchill's favourite port.

Winston Churchill was known to be extremely loyal to his favourite alcohol brands - his love of Pol Roger well-documented - with Port being no different. Churchill ordered it in large quantities for entertaining, and invoices indicate it was the only brand of Port the politician ordered throughout his lifetime.

I am now planning to get my hands on a bottle of white port to pair with fish at an upcoming dinner party in hope that it will spark conversation so I can relay my new port knowledge. Having tried the drink paired with food, I'll be digging out the left-over bottle from Christmas to add into sauces and pies for a rich, fruity addition to dishes - keep an eye out for recipes!