Wine of the Month – March

“The game of passing the port”

There’s the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and in the world of wine, there’s something quite similar ‘never judge a wine by its label’. I, however, love a label with a tale to tell, something striking, unique and with a quirky back story. A gentleman, who has embraced this, is Richard Kelley, Master of Wine and the founder of the ‘Liberater’ project.

You may be wondering what the ‘Liberator’ project is. Well, let me tell you…

Richard Kelley specialises in sourcing and commercialising fine wines from South Africa and France. While he points out he’s not a winemaker, the solid relationships he has formed in these countries has allowed him to bring to life his own range of wine. This known as The Liberator.

Mr Kelley is often in South Africa, not only on business but also visiting friends and during his time there, he can’t resist visiting the many vineyards this fantastic place has to offer. During these visits, Richard often finds himself walking into the cellars to find these wine makers have something they don’t know what to do with, not because it’s bad but because it’s experimental or different. He decided to ‘liberate’ these wines, encouraging these prestigious winemakers to allow those unusual batches to be bottled. Some may say ‘liberating’ them from cellar oblivion.

When the batches have been bottled back here in the UK, a new episode to the project is formed, an episode worthy of a unique label. This brings me to this month’s ‘wine’ addition, perhaps, not even a ‘wine’ at all though: The Liberator, Episode 9. The Bishop of Norwich.

What was set to be Richard Kelley’s first ever seasonal offering, a single barrel of Cape ‘Port’, aged in cask for two years, has now become an annual release. Produced from a vineyard planted back in 1965, in Stellenbosch, a field blend including a selection of classic Portuguese grape varieties.

This unique Cape ‘Port’ is currently showcasing on our drinks package here at The Angel at Hetton. It pairs with our dish ‘Mont D’or’, a slightly ‘cheese-ey’ affair. The dish utilises Vacherin cheese, this lovely addition from the Liberator project, I feel, really balances this strong cheese with its beautiful sweet quality.

So now, to the bottles quirky label. An image of the Bishop of Norwich looking a little sullen.

Have you ever heard of the game of the ‘passing of the port’?

It’s typically British initiative, a tradition dating back centuries. Many years ago the Bishops would gather round a grand table to talk over matters of great importance, not a lot of talking happened though, it was more about the drinking, in particular, the drinking of the port. The game dictates that once a diner has poured a glass of port for his neighbour on the right, the decanter should be passed immediately to the left, with the vessel not halting from its clockwise progression around the table until emptied. If someone is seen to be failing in their duties, the question is asked, ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ For those who know the true meaning of this euphemism, it serves as a timely reminder, while for those who don’t, they are politely informed ‘He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the Port…’ Safe to say, it was the Bishop of Norwich who always ended up asleep at the table and ended the game, no wonder he looks so miserable on the label.