Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

A stirrup cup

A stirrup cup is a traditional parting tipple, usually of Port, served to a person who has their feet in the stirrups. October at Blackberry Farm begins our fox hunting season and keeping in line with tradition, we begin our hunts by serving the riders a glass of Port to fortify them for the exhilaration of the ride. However, the question always comes up as to what, exactly is port.
Here’s the answer:
Port falls into 3 Categories: White, Ruby and Tawny. We’ll focus on the latter 2 which are the more commonly seen Ports. Both tawny and Ruby styles begin life the same way: as red grapes growing in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Once the grapes are ripe, they are treated like any red wine would be treated. The grapes are pressed, put into vats and fermentation begins. However, fermentation is not allowed to complete. While the juice is fermenting into wine, a strong, neutral brandy is added to the fermenting juice (this is called fortifying the wine – Port falls into a broad category of wine called fortified wines), bringing the alcohol up to about 20% and killing the yeast. At this point you have a red wine colored port. This is Ruby Port at its simplest.
From this point the wine can be treated in a few different ways. If the port in question is destined to stay a ruby style port, it will be put into large barrels or tanks and aged for a specified amount of time (around 2-4 years depending on style) and then it will be bottled. Because there’s very little oxygen interaction in this process as well as a small amount of temperature fluctuation (the large tanks and barrels react to changes in temperature more slowly) the port stays ruby in color. This becomes Ruby Port and is often aged in bottle for many years to allow the wine to mature and become more elegant.
If the port in question is destined to be Tawny, the wine will be put into smaller barrels for a longer period of time (often a minimum of 7 years but sometimes much more). These smaller barrels and extended barrel ageing time allow for more oxygen interaction as well as temperature fluctuation. This caramelizes the sugar in the wine as well as turns the color of the red wine to a more brown or Tawny Color. This is Tawny Port.
We focus on a subcategory of Tawny port called, Colhieta Tawny. This is tawny port that is from a single vintage. This is a rarity because often, the tawny ports you will see are blended tawny ports that carry an age indication such as 10, 20, 30 or 40-year specification. These ports are not all exactly 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of age but rather a blend of vintages that taste like a 10, 20, 30 or 40-year old port should taste. The Colhieta tawny ports are 100% from the vintage listed and are often much more elegant ports that are worth a try. We carry vintages dating back to 1934 in our cellar at Blackberry Farm.  
Andy Chabot, Food & Beverage Director  
October 1, 2011