In Georgian England, port was the tipple of choice, both in polite society and in the literature of the time. Nineteenth-century gentlemen wearing high, white cravats would drink port after a stroll in a well-manicured park, and of course, when they were at their gentlemen’s club. Fine ladies in poorly heated country houses, exhausted after countless wardrobe changes, rounds of picnicking and cricket, would – after a port or two – fling themselves into said gentlemen’s embrace.
Port figured large among the authors of the time. Charles Dickens had cheap port wine favored by those in the underworld. “Bring Port wine!,” growls the murderer Rigaud in “Little Dorrit,” “I’ll drink nothing but Porto-Porto.” Another novelist William Thackeray imagines local clerics indulging in port. “You would fancy that a parson’s life was passed in gorging himself with plum-pudding and port-wine,” he wrote in his 1848 collection of satirical essays “A Book of Snobs.”
Which is why it seems a little odd that the French have now overtaken the British as aficionados of the sweet spirit.