Time for a toast....
Port, the mainstay drink of choice for the British Military when raising a toast, and on the 11th of November, Port will be used all over the world to toast the memory of those who gave their all in conflicts past and present.
But why Port?
The history of Port goes back a long way, as do so many military traditions.
The Kingdom of Portugal was founded in 1143 and due to its climate and the fertility of the Duoro valley, found one of its most important exports was wine. By 1386, England had formed close political and military alliances with Portugal under the treaty of Windsor and the trade in wine became significant between the two countries.
“Vinho do Porto”
In order to export the wines, they had to be moved from the Duoro valley to the cooler climate of the docks in the second city of Oporto. By the late 17th century, the wines (which were named after the city from where they were shipped, not where the vineyards were) were being exported as ‘Vinho do Porto’ or as it was known in England, ‘Port’.
To help prevent the wine from spoiling on the long sea voyage back to ‘Blighty’, it was often fortified with spirits, which increased its strength. However, it was not until over 100 years later that the fortification of Port took place at the fermentation stage, after realising that the English palate enjoyed the stronger, sweeter taste; by 1850 it was a universal process across Portugal.
“A stronger, sweeter taste”
As the British Empire expanded over the 19th century, the British Military would have transported with them, drinks that could withstand the travel. Port, alongside Rum for the Navy, would have been fine choices and from here, many of the traditions grew.
The Loyal toast, a salute to the head of state, is now predominantly conducted with Port, with each member of the Regimental mess standing (unless Royal Navy or a member of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, who remain seated) with a full glass of vintage Port.
If the occasion is formal, the filling of the glasses also has its own tradition attached.
“Port to Port”
The decanter is placed in front of the guest of honour or host. They fill the glass of the person on their right and then pass the decanter around the table to the left (or in Royal Navy parlance, it is ‘Port to Port’).
Ladies should not pour, but should pass it to the next gentleman who will pour for her, before filling his own glass.
As it goes around the table, depending on the Mess, the decanter should not actually leave the table; you just tilt it to pour.
It should end up back at the original person, who finally serves himself.
However, for most of us on the 11th of November, it will be just like-minded souls, standing up with a raised glass of port, toasting a ‘thank you’ to those who gave their tomorrows for our todays.