I’d had a thirst for Ramos Pinto Porto ever since I was about fourteen. A taste for Port at the age of fourteen you’re probably saying? As Desi said to Lucy, “I think you have some explainin’ to do.” No my palate for fortified wine wasn’t sophisticated at an unusually early age. Alcohol had actually yet to kiss my lips.
But I had been moved by art. Particularly commercial art. And particularly one poster by a Frenchman called Rene Vincent for something you drink called Ramos Pinto Porto. In those days, only originals of the poster were available. For about $800 if I remember right. So Ramos Pinto Porto never touched my tongue or graced my walls.
Though I never drank Ramos Pinto, I did grow to like Port. Because necessity (not Frank Zappa) is the mother of invention. And because at one time, if you wanted an after dinner drink, Port was about the only choice. Well if you lived in the little dictatorship called Toronto, Canada it was. In those days, it was de rigueur to follow every good meal with a good liqueur…that’s, of course, accepting the fact that things like cherry brandy, creme de menthe and anisette were actually good. But only if you were at home. Or perhaps in a restaurant that was part of a hotel. You see Toronto The Good only allowed most restaurants to serve beer or wine. And the best wine to drink after dinner was fortified wine. The best wine to drink after dinner was Port.
I have fond memories of drinking Port almost every Monday night. My friend Eddie and I would gather shortly after seven to have impure thoughts about Vanna White and then play that evening’s game of Jeopardy, even replicating the sound of the buzzer and, of course, always wording each answer as a question and, almost always, discussing whether Alex looked better with or without glasses.
Loser bought dinner and that took place at the Cafe de Bercy. Where we would drive the server crazy by continuing to communicate only in Jeopardy-speak. For example. Eddie would say, “Port”. And I would say, “What is the after dinner drink you would like with your creme brulee?”
Our Port of choice with that creme brulee was 10 year old Taylor Fladgate. Because Taylor was Eddie’s last name and he could then tell the server tall tales about running through the family vineyards barefoot or being forced into sexual slavery by the Romanian pickers. And our port of choice because Taylor Fladgate was a tawny, our favorite Port, though drinking it always led to a discussion as to why you would call it tawny when it was much more purply brown than orangy brown. And, most importantly, we drank it because Taylor Fladgate was the cheapest of the two Ports on the menu.
The other one on the menu? The more expensive one? Ramos Pinto. The one I always wanted to try. But I didn’t. Until April 2015. The occasion was a dinner at Zumo in San Miguel de Allende. And there on the tasting menu, right after the Trufa Chocolate de Mezcal, were those two words: Ramos Pinto followed by two more words White Port.
No, it wasn’t a tawny but it was still a Ramos Pinto. And I remembered that when I once made an ill-fated attempt to write the good American novel (everyone else was writing the great), in the south of Portugal, the locals drank only white port. Very cold. And almost always with almonds. And when I asked about tawny, they told me, “We make that for the eeengleth.”
The taste of the Ramos Pinto White Port was surprising. Maybe it’s because something like Sauvignon Blanc tastes so much different than Cabernet Sauvignon, but white Port doesn’t taste all that much different from tawny Port. And that’s good. The glass I savored at Zumo reminded me of humbugs and I have very fond reminiscences of humbugs. And not just because Alistair Sim was one of my favorite actors.
About two weeks after that Zumo dinner, I was invited to an event heralding The Wines Of Portugal (one of the few privileges gained from endless hours of blogging). There’s only one word to describe these trade events…no, make that two words. Bloody Bewildering. So many wines. So little time. There were 200+ wines at the Portugal event. Many of them stratospherically beyond the normal Don Day budget. And all of them for free.
Now being a relatively normal human being and also a man, usually I totally make a fool of myself at these events. Consuming so much that I can’t even remember what I drank and inevitably ending up at the booth with the server with the largest breasts and the dress with the neckline that plunged below the equator (yes, they still employ them at trade shows), swirling my glass so that the contents dangerously approached the rim and using the words “barnyard”, “tar” and “leather” at least twice too often when describing the taste.
But this time was different. This time I decided to be sensible. I decided to taste the bounty from only one booth. Especially when I saw that Ramos Pinto logo over the booth. And even though they’d hired a flat chested male called Casey to serve.
There in the bottles on display were all of the Ramos Pinto Ports I’d fantasized about (almost but not quite as much as I’d fantasized about Vanna). I decided I’d restrict myself to the big four on the shelf.
“No, Casey, I won’t be needing the spitoon; tonight I’m swallowing.”
I started with the 10 year Quinta de Ervamoira. Tastes of raisins, coconut, butterscotch. Nice.
Next was the 20 year Quinta do Bom Retiro. A wine that runs close to a hundred bucks a bottle which is more than twice as much as Don Day’s ever spent on a bottle of Port. Flavors included orange peel, cedar, toast, chocolate. Very nice.
Third, the 30 year tawny. A wine that is almost beyond finding the price on the Internet. A wine that Casey implied he wasn’t supposed to give to everybody. Almonds, apricots, toffee, figs and brazil nuts were all there. Very, very nice.
I’d done it. 55 years it had taken. And so worth the wait. But there was one more bottle in the row of perfectly postured soldiers. A wine that hadn’t had its label revised, revamped and destroyed by some overzealous marketing guy with a copy of Powerpoint.
It was called Lagrima. And it was, according to Casey, “the sweetest of all Port wines”. Orange blossoms, honey, jasmine and yes, humbugs, that taste I’d enjoyed in my very first bottle of Ramos Pinto.
OK, if you’ve read this far (and yes, I doubt that many people have) you’re probably saying why are you telling me all this? What has this got to do with “the best things to eat and drink in San Miguel de Allende” which is what your blog is supposed to be about?
Well guess what? Ramos Pinto is available in San Miguel de Allende. As well as at Zumo, you’ll find both the white and the basic tawny (which spends about two years in wood barrels) available by the glass at Aguamiel, Aperi and The Restaurant.
And if you want to experience those splurge Ramos Pinto Ports, those ten, twenty and thirty year old ports, even that is possible.
San Miguel sommelier Arael Gomez Tello is the local distributor of Ramos Pinto. And if you can find a way to justify an entire case (the good news is Ramos Pinto comes in cases of six not twelve), Arael will be happy to sell it to you directly.
Now of course they ain’t cheap. The 10 year old is priced at $699 pesos a bottle, the 20 year old at $1348 and the 30 year old at $1887. But if perhaps you’re interested in purchasing a six pack of the two year old Ramos Pinto tawny from Arael (which goes for $284 pesos a bottle) and are looking for someone to share it with, put Don Day down for one…no, make that two bottles.
Arael Gomez Tello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.