Perhaps what's the most remarkable about these august wines, and all good ports, is the coarseness of their beginnings. Port is a comparatively recent invention, born of expediency rather than epicurism. The drink was first concocted in the late 17th century, when English merchants and Portuguese grape growers created a wine designed to satisfy a thirsty English market, parched at the time owing to war with France and a ban on all imported French products. To make a fermented beverage that would keep well during the sea journey from Portugal to England, winemakers added brandy to dry red wine, delaying oxidation. Commonly called blackstrap, the amalgam was cheap, throat-burning stuff. By the early 18th century, however, some Portuguese vintners were adding the brandy to the wine during its fermentation, arresting the conversion of sugar to alcohol and thus producing a noticeably sweeter, if still relatively unsophisticated, drink. Eventually, people realized that port tended to lose its rough edges when left to age, becoming softer and acquiring unexpected subtleties of aroma and flavor. During Queen Victoria's reign, in the 19th century, the wine, drunk with dessert or after dinner, became an English passion. Today, it's relished all over the world, premium kinds having become especially popular in the United States.