No. 58 <P> Portwine Cocktail

The Original

Fill a large bar glass half full of broken ice and add:

2 dashes of Jamaica Rum
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
3/4 of a glass of portwine
1/4 of a glass of Brandy

Stir up and strain into a cocktail glass with grated nutmeg on top.
— KNUT W. SUNDIN, TWO HUNDRED SELECTED DRINKS

The Story

THE PORTWINE COCKTAIL IS A DELICIOUS DESSERT COCKTAIL. THE INGREDIENTS INCLUDED ACT AS A DISTANT RELATIVE TO THE WORLD OF TIKI, SO YOU CAN BET YOU’RE IN FOR SOMETHING SWEET.

Port wine, rum, brandy, bitters, and nutmeg. It took more than a couple tries to get this recipe to a point that I felt comfortable with, mostly due to the sweetness of the port.

Here is how it went down...


FINDING A PORT

First, I have to be totally honest, as a cocktail drinker, I do not drink a lot of wine. Luckily, I am close to a store that has an amazingly knowledgable staff. They dove right in discussing the styles of port wine - white, ruby (or red), rosé and tawny. After a discussion with two of the staff, I selected a Tawny Port because it has a more focused sweetness and mid-complexity. With Tawny Port in hand I was ready to begin experimenting.

Tawny Port is an interesting drink. Sweet with a focus on fruits like raspberry and blackberry, it also has a subtle nuttiness with caramel tones. What I really liked about the Tawny Port selected was the sweetness was balanced with hints of caramel.


With any new bottle I purchase, I typically sip around 2 ounces to "discover" the drink. What does it remind me of? What is new to me? What do I like about it? What don't I?


I try to focus on the specific tastes and smells, then store them in my memory for reference later. You have to make sure you are deliberate about this. Be very specific to connect the smell and the taste to a location. In our fast times we sometimes forget to take a moment and enjoy our food and libations. To study them. To understand the subtleties. To remember their complexity. Food and drink are an amazing trigger for memory. Being purposeful will help you retain a memory of the taste and the moment.


SELECTING A BRANDY

Brandy was the workhorse spirit of cocktails leading up to prohibition. In fact, brandy was the base liquor for most cocktails in the 1800s as it was plentiful in the United States. (We made bad wine, but good brandy.) You will see quite a few cocktails with a base of brandy as I further explore my grandfather’s book. So picking up a good bottle was imperative.
 
When selecting the spirits for the Portwine Cocktail, I went with a cognac (which is a brandy made in a specific region of France) that is not only delicious but also over-proofed for some kick.
 
Selecting a cognac, like any spirit, is difficult. But I have three rules;

  1. Pick a bottle from one of the champagne crus - Grande Fine Champagne or Petite Champagne. (Note: this has nothing to do with the the sparkling champagne drink.)
  2. Pick a bottle that is plain. Any complicated, over-designed bottle is hiding something.
  3. Select a bottle from a smaller distiller.

 
The cognac I have on hand at my house is Gourry de Chadeville Overproof from the Grande Fine Champagne cru. (More information here.) It is a cognac made completely manually - meaning, they stomp the grapes by hand…err… I mean, feet. This particularly young cognac was made for sipping and perfect for cocktails because it is only lightly-aged and has zero additives.


THE COCKTAIL

My first two attempts at the cocktail were failures. This was mostly due to the sweetness of the tawny port. But once I started holding back the sweetness and balancing with the cognac the situation improved quickly. 

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A cocktail that is all spirits and alcohol it must be stirred.

A cocktail that is all spirits and alcohol it must be stirred. Stirring a drink is difficult. It is a balance of mixing ingredients, dilution and chilling - and doing it without much agitation. You will need to dilute longer than you expect to balance the flavor. (Here is a good "how to" video.)

After dilution, strain into a coupe and grate fresh nutmeg on top of the drink. The oils from the nutmeg will sit on top of the drink and add a nice aroma with each sip. 

Enjoy.


Modern Port Wine Cocktail

½ teaspoon of Jamaica rum
3 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
½ oz. Overproof Cognac or Brandy
1½ oz. Portwine
Fresh Nutmeg

Directions

In a mixing glass add the Jamaica Rum and Angostura Bitters. Add Ice then pour in the Cognac and Port. Stir up until sufficiently chilled and diluted. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish by grating fresh nutmeg over the top.

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 Fresh Nutmeg... history of nutmeg in Tiki drinks with portwine.

J.B. is the founder of 200 Drinks. He spends most of his day working as a design leader at a large technology company but finds time in his schedule to enjoy a drink and write about it. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife, son and pup.