Drink like a gentleman: The etiquette of Port

Ah, Port. As warming as a cashmere jumper. The perfect way to end a supper, paired with cheese. A Christmas staple. It’s also a drink that carries with it a number of rules – age-old traditions that every gentleman should respect. Because it isn’t just your choice of drink that says a lot about you – it’s also the way you drink it. So, pass the Port.


What’s the right way to decant Port?

Decanting allows the Port to be separated from the natural sediment that forms in the bottle as it ages in the cellar. The wine is then able to breathe, which allows its complex aromas to open up and come to the fore.

If you’re any kind of wine connoisseur, you already know this: the splash of white paint often seen on wine bottles tells you which way up it was cellared. This mark should be uppermost when decanting, and a funnel should be used to catch sediment.

How should you pass around a bottle of Port?

The rituals are most apparent when it comes to how to serve Port, so listen up gents. Tradition dictates that the Port decanter should be placed on the table to the right of the host or hostess. It is then passed to the left, going clockwise around the table until it comes to rest at its starting point.

Port is never passed across the table or back on itself – it’s only to the left. There are several theories as to why this is:

  • Historically, to keep one’s sword arm free
  • In the Royal Navy, the rule was ‘port to port’, i.e. ‘all the way around’
  • To simply ensure it’s shared fairly and no one misses out

What if the Port decanter comes to a standstill during the round?

If this happens, it’s considered bad form to demand it. Rather, a gentleman should ask: “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” This traditionally acts as a subtle push to continue passing it around the table.

So, where on earth did this come from? Well, the story goes that Bishop Bathurst of Norwich, aged 93, developed a tendency to unwittingly stall the decanter’s journey by falling asleep at the table, becoming the go-to reference for slow Port rounds ever since. The more you know.

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