July 19, 2015

Never ask to pass the port

THOSE OF YOU who have experienced civilized upbringings must sometimes wonder why we always pass the decanter of port to the left after dinner in the main saloon. Well, the fact is that we don’t always pass it to the left, or clockwise.
We only pass it to the left in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere the decanter goes counter-clockwise. If you are ever in any doubt about which way it should go, just flush some water down the galley sink and see which way it revolves as it gurgles out. In the northern hemisphere it will revolve clockwise. In the southern hemisphere it will gurgle counter-clockwise. And those of you who paid attention in science class at school will know that this is due to the Coriolis effect, so named after the Italian plumber who first noticed it.

Port and cheese is a wonderful way to end a dinner on a boat and it needn’t always be a formal affair. For years we have recommended a small glass of port at sunset when at anchor for the night. Port travels better on boats than most wines do. In fact, I half remember reading somewhere that the Portuguese wine merchants used to ship cargoes of port wine as ballast aboard the Grand Banks fishing fleet so that it was suitably matured by the time they got back home to Portugal.

Cheese and crackers go well with port, and red grapes are good also, but if you’re adventurous you might want to try small bamboo skewers loaded with prosciutto, melon, and cheese. I should warn you that port and potato chips don’t make it.

Now, suppose you’re seated around the cabin table after a fine dinner in the northern hemisphere, and the person on your right neglects to pass the port to you, either by deliberate neglect because he doesn’t like you, or through sheer forgetfulness. What do you do? You would commit a gross breach of etiquette if you said: “Please pass the port.”

By tradition, you must say: “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”

Anyone with the civilized kind of upbringing I mentioned earlier will immediately pass the port, along with a suitable apology.  But if your question is met with a blank stare or an answer in the negative, you should say: “He’s a fine fellow, but he always forgets to pass the port.”

This is what is known in civilized circles as a heavy hint. If the guilty party does not respond by passing the port immediately, you are entitled to throw your gauntlet on the table and challenge him to pistols at dawn. Unless you are seated next to a lady, of course. If she looks nonplussed and fails to pass the port, I think you are entitled to grab it from her and help yourself without penalty.

Incidentally, although you may have a glass of port in front of you, obtained in the ordinary, non-combative manner, you should not take a sip until everybody has been served; and it is exceptionally bad form to drink your port before the main toast.

Incidentally, the decanter should be kept circulating until it is empty. This is because even the best ports start to deteriorate within 24 hours if they are exposed to too much oxygen. Most port benefits from an airing for a few hours before being served, to let it “breathe,” and pouring it from bottle to decanter, if done slowly and carefully, will get rid of most of the sediment that tends to collect at the bottom of the bottle. But there’s no point in keeping the remains for tomorrow. Even the ship’s dog wouldn’t look at it then.

Today’s Thought
Wine nourishes, refreshes, and cheers. Wine is the foremost of medicines  . . . whenever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary.
— The Talmud

“Gimme a return ticket.”
“Yes, sir. Where to?”
“Back here, you idiot.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Don P said...

Hi John,

a little background to one element of your story.

Don P