“Once a Vintage Port has been decanted and the moment has come to enjoy it, tradition dictates that the decanter should be placed on the table to the right of the host or hostess. It should then be passed to the left, travelling round the table from guest to guest in a clockwise direction until it comes back to its starting point. Although the tradition is most often observed when serving Vintage Port, it is also often followed with other Port styles.
If a guest fails to pass the decanter on to his or her neighbour, it will come to a standstill. This usually happens because a guest does not notice that the decanter is there, does not realise that they should pass it on or, more rarely, hopes that no one will notice so that they can have a second glass.
Guests waiting further down the table for the decanter to arrive may become impatient. However, it is considered bad form to demand that the decanter be passed on. Instead, the person who is preventing the decanter from continuing its journey round the table is asked politely ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ This is a gentle reminder to get the decanter moving again. If the meaning does not sink in, the less subtle alternative ‘Is your passport in order?’ may be used.
The origin of ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ is attributed to Henry Bathurst who was Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837. Bishop Bathurst lived to the age of 93 by which time his eyesight was deteriorating and he had developed a tendency to fall asleep at the table towards the end of the meal. As result he often failed to pass on the Port decanters several of which would accumulate by his right elbow to the consternation of those seated further up the table. A bon vivant said to possess a prodigious capacity for wine consumption, he was sometimes suspected of using these frailties to his advantage.”