Recently Miss Dish got a call from Jim Dixon, this guy whose name you might recognize from these very pages because he's written about food for


for almost as long as Miss Dish has been alive. He's a swell fellow, and Miss Dish adores him. Anyway, Jim was really excited in that way he generally gets excited--no change in pitch or speed of voice, but he goes on and on and on. The guy fills a voicemail box like Anna Nicole fills a bra. The topic this time was port wine and a tasting he went to last year that was crunk and how it was coming back again this year and wasn't that just thrilling. Not one to pass by an informed and peppy preview, Miss Dish decided to let him take over her space this week so he can give you all the deets.

From the desk of Jim Dixon:

Just about this same time last year, as the sodden gray skies and prospect of many weeks ahead without a federally mandated holiday weighed heavy, a small miracle arrived in my mailbox. It was an invitation to a tasting of port wine. The clouds parted, the sun set in a burst of color, and I headed down to the RiverPlace Hotel to check it out.

Port was once considered the poor man's Mad Dog. Cheap California ports, fortified with alcohol to about 20 percent, offered a fast trip to stuporville, and the skid rows were littered with empty mickeys, the half-pint bottles favored by the locals. But this was a chance to taste the good stuff: real Porto from Portugal.

I picked up my official tasting glass at the door and started making the rounds. Dozens of purveyors from the Douro Valley, the only place in the world where Porto is made, offered sips of rubies, tawnies, LBVs, and the incredible aged blends called colheitas. I got to taste wines I'll never afford, and the few short hours of imbibing made the Portland winter seem downright pleasant.

Well, the Porto is back. Get down to the RiverPlace Hotel next Tuesday, and you'll be able to taste nearly 100 different Portos at a traveling tasting event sponsored by Instituto do Vinho do Porto. It's a thinly veiled ploy to get Americans to drink more Porto, and I'm all for it.

Porto as we know it today was created as a "shipping wine" for the English upper classes in the mid-1700s. They liked their wine sweet, so the winemakers in Portugal added a sort of grape-derived Everclear to their wines to stop the fermentation process before it used up all the sugar. The extra alcohol also helped preserve the wine for the trip north.

Porto comes in a few different flavors, but the important distinction is between ruby and tawny. Ruby wines are generally younger and a little sweeter, tawny Portos older and slightly drier. An LBV is a late-bottled vintage--wine from one year that's bottled after a few years in casks. Good Porto is sweet but not cloying, and the older wines get smoother and more balanced. At next week's tasting, you can sample some of the very best Portos, those aged as long as 40 years.

Porto Wine Institute Tasting

6-8 pm Tuesday, Feb. 4. $25. Call Metropolitan Family Services, 232- 0007, ext. 105, for tickets. Part of the proceeds benefit MFS, a Portland nonprofit that's been helping area children, families, older adults, and people with disabilities for more than 50 years. Treats from the Lucere kitchen will be served, too.