At Fareham Wine Cellar we sell quite a bit of Port from Ruby all the way up to Vintage, old Colheitas and Tawnies. One of the things I am often asked about is as to why is there a blob of white paint on the Port bottle. Indeed, some customers have refused to buy a bottle with white paint on it. So what is it there for?
Quite simply the white paint on a Port bottle is a dash of white paint or chalk so that one can tell which way “up” the bottle is when it is laying down in the in the Port House’s cellar. Port bottles are only labelled when they sold by the producer and the white mark or “splash mark” tells the cellar master which way up the bottle has been cellared. Vintage Port did not legally have to be labelled for sale until it became law with the 1977 Port vintage, so there was often no label to see which way up the bottle was (the vintage and name of the Port would be on the capsule and the cork). Therefore, if the bottle is left one one side the sediment will all collect on one side. Sometimes it is a neat blob of white paint on a vintage Port bottle, other times it is a real splash – and it seems to vary from Port house to Port House and, no doubt, depends who was working in the cellar on particular day.
This is, or should I say was, useful information when decanting a bottle of Port. If the bottle is handle carefully with the white paint mark uppermost, there is less chance of the sediment being disturbed. I say “was useful information ” because I think that the splash mark on a bottle of vintage Port is a bit of a throw back to the old days, perhaps when a bottle of Port would be taken straight from a cellar, decanted and served straight a way (perhaps using a Port cradle). Today, for most people who drink vintage Port, it is somewhat of an occasion which allows the person serving the Port to leave the bottle upright for four or five days (as I recommend) before they serve it which allows all the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle and means the Port can be much more successfully decanted. When a consumer has a bottle of Port now, it will invariably have a label on the bottle, so there is no reason for the splash mark anymore, however some Ports still come with the white mark on it. Some producers, like Niepoort, stone fire their bottles.
Read more about Decanting Port.