The centuries-old etiquette of ‘passing the Port’ is complicated. That’s where the Bishop of Norwich comes in…
When serving Port, one should fill the glass of the neighbour on the right, then pass the decanter to the left in a clockwise motion. The progression of decanter should not halt considerably until it is empty. If a guest should become distracted and neglect their duties, slowing the progress of the decanter, one can bring it to their attention by enquiring, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”. Those who understand the euphemism will pick up the decanter immediately, those who do not are politely informed, “He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the Port.” This unusual custom is thought to date back to the early 1800s, and is a reference to Bishop Bathurst*, who lived to the ripe old age of 93 and had failing eyesight and a propensity to fall asleep at the table. This prevented him from keeping the Port decanter moving in a timely manner, although some suspected that this doddery Port-lover used these frailties to his advantage.
As a panel taster for South African Wine Magazine, a contributor to the highly respected Platter’s South African Wines Guide and a certified Master of Wine, Richard Kelley is one of the most respected authorities on South African wine in the world. Over three decades in the industry, this Cape Crusader has made a lot of friends throughout that great winemaking nation. Every time he visits the Cape, he pops in to see his buddies and rummage through their cellars, uncovering great wines that don’t quite fit in the winery’s portfolio, are deemed too experimental or that they plan to simply fill into big blends. On discovering these gems, Richard – going by his alter ego Rick – ‘liberates’ them, bottles them and sells them under the small-batch label The Liberator. Each one is completely unique and when it’s gone, it will never be repeated. This one is the new iteration of Episode 9 in the series, and only 2,880 bottles were made.
The Bishop of Norwich is not actually a Port, because it comes from South Africa. But this fortified wine was grown on Muratie’s vineyard in Stellenbosch, which was planted with Portuguese grape varieties (Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca and Souzão) back in 1965. The wine was aged in cask for two years and Rick tasted this particular barrel when visiting his friend Rijk in March 2020. Falling in love with it, he bottled it in June 2020, and the result gives any Port a run for its money. Just make sure you keep it moving around the table.
* The label actually features a picture of John Sheepshanks, a later Bishop of Norwich, who perpetuated the myth that the custom stemmed from himself rather than Henry Bathurst.