Memories of Cold Weather, Good Food…and Port


For most of us that enjoy good wine & food, you remember a certain place and time when you first experienced a particular varietal or dish for the first time. It is etched on your memory like a great holiday experience, your first love or the first time you tried Port.

I remember fondly the first time I had French Onion soup, or as they say outside of the USA, Soupe à l’oignon. I was at a business conference in Montréal and I stepped out for lunch with my good friend Lance Elko. Walking the streets of Montréal in the late autumn there was crispness to the air and we decided to duck into a small bistro for a bite. I had never had onion soup and when Lance ordered it, I decided to take a chance.

When it arrived it was covered with bubbling, toasted gruyere cheese and was an amazing combination of flavors that makes me hungry just writing about it. The same thing happened for me with Port when I first tried it at a small restaurant in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst, California was just a restaurant back in 1988 when I first went. Of course saying it was ‘just’ a restaurant is not doing it justice. What I mean was that in the early spring of 1988 they had not added the Château du Sureau, Villa Sureau, Spa du Sureau, nor had they received the Wine Spectator, Zagat or numerous other awards, but they did a very nice job on lunch and dinner and I had a chance to wander down to the wine cellar for a taste of Port.

The wine cellar was empty save for me and my dinner companion who implored me to use my company expense account and enjoy a glass a Port. The cellar room, carved out of a hillside, was a cozy nook with two small tables, a fine wood bar and walls covered with native stone. We decided on a Vintage Port and proceeded to imbibe in its warming flavors. A full-bodied, with rich opulent black fruit and fragrant brambly aroma, the Port warmed us in a very cool room and was a perfect end to a great meal.

Since then, I have always thought of Port as the perfect cold weather finish to a meal. Thanksgiving, Christmas or anytime when the weather is cold a nice Ruby or Vintage Port is my first choice for a great after dinner drink. It reminds me of the tall ponderosa pines, the smoke of a fireplace and cool weather I enjoyed in my time in Oakhurst.