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The Tippling Point | Why Masculinity Was Measured in Terms of Bottles of Port Wine in 18th Century England

Britain has never been the best ground for grapes, and that was exactly why the island always gloated on its ales and beers rather than talk about its wines. Until the 18th century, it was the neighbourhood France that Englishmen looked up to whenever they went wine-thirsty.

Manu Remakant |

Updated:September 23, 2018, 1:21 PM IST
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The Tippling Point | Why Masculinity Was Measured in Terms of Bottles of Port Wine in 18th Century England
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News18 Tippling Point You may all have heard of Port wine. Some of you might even have tasted it. But how many of you know the story behind it? How did it get the name Port!

Well, here’s the long story short.​

Britain has never been the best ground for grapes, and that was exactly why the island always gloated on its ales and beers rather than talk about its wines. Until the 18th century, it was the neighbourhood France that Englishmen looked up to whenever they went wine-thirsty.

Imported French wines and brandies tried to quench their insatiable appetite. But the English had a nasty habit. Whenever they fell out with France over a bit of land or over other petty politics they took it out on their drinking habits. They just refused to drink anything French anymore.

When the discontent grew in the 18th Century, the Englishmen looked elsewhere for their daily drink.

Portugal with its splendid tradition of making wines that goes back thousands of years came in as a perfect choice and replacement. But from where in the country? When almost every part of Portugal was making better wines, it needed some discerning eyes to pick the best.

Finally, the roving eyes of the English merchants settled on an interior region in Portugal - Duoro valley. In the rocky hills and hot climate on the valleys near the Duoro river, they came across some full bodied and robust wines. All were great.

But finding it is one thing, bringing it home is quite another.

The English merchants found that the conveyance and the sea journey from the vineyards of the interior part of Portugal to England sounded death knell to wine. It went stale in a little time. What to do now!

The solution came as some real serendipity. Someone added a bit of brandy to the wine.

Abracadabra! The wine stood the test of its arduous journey to nourish the parched English souls back home.

As the spirit left for England from Oporto, a city right by the Atlantic, the new wine, fortified with a little brandy, came to be known as Port wine.

You think Port, being wine, was damp, lackadaisical, low spirited?

Think twice. The 18th century saw some real binge drinking thanks to this sudden flood of port wine from Portugal. The century was known for its 3-bottle men.

Masculinity, those days was measured in terms of the bottles of Port your could finish in one sitting.

If you could down three, you were considered a real McCoy, a real man. But you should pay respect when those 6-bottle men arrived. The playwright Richard Sheridan, Prime Minister William Pitt, the younger were all 6 bottle men.

Still when it comes to binge drinking academicians should have the last word. John Porter, a classical scholar at Oxford University is said to knock back 13 bottles of Port at a sitting.

But the books are silent over how long he held to his bottle or to his dear life.

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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