Tawny Port tasting with AuZone

A recurring December in the wine tasting club AuZone is a Port tasting arranged by our member MW. This time around, the theme was Tawny Port, i.e., the more light-coloured Ports that get their character through a longer and oxidative treatment in oak barrels of moderate size. This type of treatment differs from that given to the darker red Ports that are either bottled young (Vintage Port) or that are given some years in larger barrels/vats (Late Bottled Vintage). Tawny Port often come across as a little sweeter in its profile than Vintage Port and such due to less tannins and less peppery spiciness, and the combination with some more fudge/toffee/caramel notes results in them often being used with desserts. They are also excellent to various cheeses, in particular blue cheeses, and they sometimes see use as aperitifs.

It is interesting to notice that the market for Port differs in different countries, not just in terms of price points, but also by the regard in which Tawnies are held in relation to Vintage Port and other dark red ports. The Portuguese themselves are definitely among those that appreciate Tawnies, and my experience is that they always make that part of their range available to visitors to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, where the major Port houses are located.

Tawnies are ready to drink when they are sold, and since the style is based on extended oak barrel treatment, they are not further improved by being stored in bottle. On the other hand, neither do they get worse by being stored for a couple of years in a cellar, under reasonable conditions. Bottles can also be left open for quite a while, and are therefore usually sold with a resealable (short) cork.

If we move above the simplest level of Tawnies, they are designated by age using the steps 10, 20, 30, and 40 years old. These wines are a blend of different vintages to achieve a consistent style between bottlings, and to achieve a balance between mature notes (fudge, caramel, leather etctera), fruit, and a fresh and balancing acidity. The price of these is often more or less proportional to the age. Many Tawny aficionados consider 20 year old Tawny to be optimal, i.e., there’s a clear improvement up to that level, but the 30 and 40 year old wines are different rather than clearly better. There are also vintage-dated Tawny-styled Port, and they are usually called Colheita, which is Portuguese for harvest. Of the three vintage-dated wines included in this tasting, only one was actually called Colheita, though.

Tawny Port 20141211 flaskor

The wines tasted were the following, and as usual they were served blind:

Smith Woodhouse 10 Years Tawny

Light red colour with brick edge. Unfortunately there was a cork taint that as usually is the case only got worse with time. After a while in the glass it might have deserved something like 70 p?

This wine was excluded from the best-worst voting (being worst than worst) and was hopefully returned to the monopoly from whence it came for a refund. I forgot to check, but I think this wine had a short resealable composite cork. I can’t remember having tasted a wine with such a strong cork taint from that type of cork.

Veiga Malvazia 15 Years (Henriques & Henriques)
Madeira, from half bottles

Dark amber colour, almost brown, with a yellow edge. The darkest colour of the flight. Nose with walnuts, burnt and caramelized sugar, dried yellow berries, spice notes, oiled dark wood, some solvent and oxidation notes. The nose reminds me both of Oloroso Sherry and Madeira. The palate is sweet with red berries and fruitiness, shows good concentration, rather spicy notes with walnuts and a long spicy aftertaste with red berries. More red berries in the palate than in the nose, and a good “punch”, 90-91 p.

2 best votes.

Yes, this was a Madeira snuck in for comparison! Sure, there were Madeira signs (and a somewhat different colour), but I wasn’t alone in also finding some Oloroso character, and also the 1964 (wine number 6) went in that direction.

Fonseca 20 Years Old Tawny

Pale red colour with a brick edge. Nose with strawberries and “nice” red berries, dried red berries, dried zest, oxidation notes with volatile acidity and solvent. In a way a “lightweight” nose, but one that is also elegant and quite red berry-dominated. The palate is sweet, very red berry-dominated with a fine concentration of berries, good acidity, some liqueur notes, and a light alcoholic/fiery note towards the finish, but also a fine elegance. 91 p, and the score had been higher if it wasn’t for the finish.

4 worst votes. I suppose that the lighter style wasn’t appreciated by everyone, and apparently I was more fond of this wine than the average participant.

Graham’s 40 Years Old Tawny

Reddish amber colour, yellow edge. Nose with hazelnuts and walnuts, nut cakes, oiled light-coloured wood, dried yellow berries, definitely some red berries, spice notes, some volatile acidity and oxidation notes, as well as flowery aromas. The palate is sweet and red berry-dominated with dried yellow berries, spice notes, walnuts and good acidity. Rather elegant in style, 92 p.

1 worst vote.

1982 Oiro da Gepa Reserva Particular

Light amber colour, unclear. Nose with some oxidation notes of the type “old (white) wine that have aged in the bottle”, i.e, some old apples, Sherry and Madeira, but also dried yellow fruit, nutty notes, and oiled dark wood. Sweet palate with red berries, some yellow fruit, nuts, spices, and a fruity and good finish. Better palate than the nose, that was a bit off. 87 p

7 worst votes including mine, and therefore voted the worst/least good wine among the non-defect.

1964 Taylor’s Very Old Single Harvest Port

Amber colour with yellow edge. Powerful nose of red berries, caramel, walnuts, dried yellow berries, some leather, a hint of burnt sugar, and pronounced notes of volatile acidity and solvent notes, and hints of Oloroso Sherry. Palate with sweet red berries, dried red berries, walnuts, massive concentration, leather, good acidity, and a light alcoholic note. A full-powered wine! 93 p.

6 best votes including mine, voted the best wine in rather close competition with the next wine.

1965 Kopke Colheita

Dark reddish amber colour with yellow edge. Powerful nose with red berries, pronounced oxidation note with volatile acidity, dried red berries, spice notes, leather and some oiled wood. Palate with noticeable sweetness, red berries, powerful concentration, some walnuts, spices, good acidity, and a long fruity aftertaste with a good spice note. 92 p

4 best votes, finished second in the vote.

By the way, these wines do not just taste good and have aromas adapted to much of the traditional Christmas candies. They are also nice to watch:

Tawny Port 20141211 glas

Swedish version here.

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