I vividly remember my first sip of port - I'd have been 10 or 11 and dad let me try some, I had no idea it would be sweet, it was a formative moment; a glimpse of a whole world of possibility. An adolescent diet of Georgette Heyer sold me on the idea that knowledge of wine was an essential part of a cultured education. Brideshead Revisited finished the job, snobberies and all.
I like port rather more than it likes me so I've learnt to approach it with caution and only ever in company. It's just the thing for a family gathering where it can be shared round and over indulgence is unlikely. Once opened a bottle should be finished within a week, two at most, to get it at its best, which also makes it a good holiday ritual.
Port became popular in the UK in the 18th century during one of those endless wars with the French which cut off traditional supplies, and it's been popular ever since. With no cellar to hand in which to store pipes of vintage port (Heyer, Waugh, and my grandfather would doubtless all shake their heads over such a lack of amenities) I go for a good L.B.V.
Late bottled vintage is port from a specific year that spends longer in the barrel (typically 4-6 years) than a vintage (which would get about 18 months and then does the rest of its ageing in the bottle) which essentially means it's ready to drink when you buy it. If it says unfiltered on the bottle it will need decanting, or careful pouring to avoid the bitter sludgy dregs (or crust) in the bottle. Decanting doesn't need to be an elaborate affair. Pouring the wine through a fine sieve lined with muslin (or a clean pair of tights) and into a jug, giving the bottle a quick rinse and then returning the wine to it will do the trick (though it might be frowned on by purists). I would argue that it's worth spending a little bit more - quality rather than quantity is the key here, and why cut corners for something that's only going to be an occasional treat.
Port seems like such an archetypically conservative drink that the equally conservative Trollope (Anthony rather than Joanna) comes to mind, but so does the Duke of Wellington and his war with the French. I do have an edited collection of his dispatches, but I suspect it's a combination that would most likely lead to a nap on a comfortable sofa rather than dedicated reading. Scott on the aftermath of Waterloo might be more gripping, but neither is going to come close to 'Vanity Fair'.
It's a testament to how exciting I found this book when I first read it that it comes as a shock to realise how long it is every time I consider a re read. The idea that in the other side of Christmas there's a spot by a fire, the peace to tackle it again, and the prospect of sharing a bottle of port (Warre's LBV to be specific) with my father is what's going to get me through the next 2 weeks.