Wine Challenge, Week 19: Tawny Port-straganza!

Ever been caught in a tornado?

Well, neither have I, but that’s what some life transitions certainly feel like at times… at least to me. And there’s been a lot of upheaval, restructuring, and general chaos as I try to find both my new normal and my new calm.

However, all of that comes with some positive news — I’ve switched gears and moved into a new job that I’m so thrilled to have started! There’s been a lot of training, some victories and some bumps… but overall, a great opportunity for growth moving forward.

All this to say that… I’m back! Let the old experiments resume and the new explorations ensue, shall we?

Last week, I had the chance to try four different tawny ports from the same brand side-by-side, ranging in age from 10 to 40 years. How much of a difference could I find between them?

In what seems to me a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I made a tasting post about sherry. Port, which hails from Portugal, does share some characteristics with sherry, but otherwise displays itself as an entirely different breed of fortified wine.

Fast facts:

  • To receive the name “Port” (or “Porto”) and be able to print it on the label, the wine must have been made in Douro Valley.
  • The moniker of “tawny” refers to the beautiful color of the wines, which develop more with greater age. These ports are aged in small oak barrels that allow for higher levels of controlled oxidation that affect not only its color, but also the aroma/flavor profiles. Think dried fruit, nuts, and spices.
  • Have a bottle of tawny that’s been open for a while? Longer than two weeks? Well, if you’ve kept it in a decently cool place (fridge is okay too), well-sealed and without pesky sunlight, it stays good for weeks. Feel that it’s starting to go? Throw it into a risotto recipe and thank me later.
  • Like sherry, port is fortified. This means that you make a base wine, and then add a neutral spirit (like brandy) made of grapes to halt fermentation. Fortification explains the last bullet point — higher ABV fron the spirit preserves the wine for much longer.
  • At about 20% ABV, sip these wines slowly, friends. Treat them like fine whisky.

A stroke of pure luck led to my discovery of a little port wine set — 4 bottles of tawny, each 50ml, at different ages. Without having to invest over $100 (or more, easily) in four regular-sized bottles, I jumped at the chance to conduct a vertical tasting for under $35.

For science.

Yeeeeesssss. And you can bet I had some food handy. Port is great with cheese or chocolate! The ultimate win-win.

Note: As a vertical tasting, I didn’t feel the need to go in as much detail on each wine as usual, but I chose instead to focus on the differences at each progressive level. I also didn’t bother to note ABV, because they’re all high in alcohol.

Producer: Quinta das Carvalhas

Region: Pinhão, Douro River

Style: fortified, tawny

Grapes: Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca

10 Year Tawny

The clear color still has a ruby core in the glass. There’s a medium plus intensity of aromas that include fig, dried cherries, a hint of cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The flavors closely follow at medium intensity, but I would also add cedar and some grapey-ness to the palate.

The wine is medium sweet, with medium minus acidity, a full body, and a smooth, medium finish.

Luscious and still with hints of fresher fruit, the ten year whets the palate and makes me crave a cheese plate.

20 Year Tawny

Clear color, with only touches of ruby remaining in the core. Aromas have less intensity than in the ten-year (only medium), but I found stewed red cherry and vanilla again, alongside coffee, caramel, and almond. The palate adds dried baking spices, toast, marzipan, and a slight medicinal note that I might attribute to the fortifying spirit (called aguardente in Portuguese), also at medium intensity.

I found the finish to be a bit longer — medium plus — and more luscious this time. Less fruit, more pronounced evidence of oak maturation and bottle ageing, which will only continue in the next two bottles.

The real question here is this: will the thirty and forty each retain this smoothness and depth in a longer finish, or will they simply have moved past their prime at those points?

30 Year Tawny

The color has shifted to a rich brown, still clear and of medium depth.

Of fruit aromas, I could find only fig; there’s instead lots of caramel, toffee, vanilla, cinnamon, and with more pronounced nuttiness than in the twenty year, at medium intensity still. The palate surprised me with chocolate, honey and praline, there’s more toffee and caramel, and the flavors are of a medium plus intensity.

The thirty-year has that long finish I had hoped for, buttery (not flavored of butter, but more than velvety in texture) and oh-so-smooth. This one’s my favorite so far. Will the forty-year exceed it?

40 Year Tawny

This port is a clear, medium coppery brown. Aroma intensity has dropped to medium minus, but nuts, caramel, praline and vanilla are still discernible.

On the palate, medium intensity flavors (dropped again, as expected) follow the aromas, with cocoa, almonds, and walnuts. The finish did drop to medium in length, and it had more of a syrupy quality than a smooth one. While enjoyable still, it sits nowhere near the level of the thirty-year on all counts.

My Verdict

Had this been a race, the thirty-year tawny would have far outpaced its brothers, no contest. Between its richness and complexity, combined with a finish that left me dreamy-eyed, it’s no wonder that these bottles retail around $100 at full size.

Meep. 😰

Good thing I enjoyed the heck out of it! And the others, too…

If you’re wondering how I’d judge the overall quality of the four, looking over my notes I’d definitely rate the thirty-year at “outstanding,” the ten- and twenty-years as “very good,” and I suppose the forty-year also rates at “very good,” but less so than the others. All are very drinkable now, though the youngest two could age a while, too.

Any other fortified wines I should taste here on the blog? Recommendations and suggestions are always welcome in the comments!

Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by to check out the new post. Holiday or not, the fun never stops, so check in later this week for more adventures.

See you then!

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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