We tend to think Porto is a cool weather drink, sipping a glass by the fire with a cigar and a chunk of Blue Stilton, but Tawny Ports can be a fine summer option. Perhaps it’s the subtler, aged flavors, or perhaps it’s the fact that we tend to serve them slightly chilled that makes Tawnies work best in the warmer months. As with Vintage Character Porto, these are manipulated fortified wines, to give us a sense of aging without having to cellar the Porto ourselves, and since they filter the final product, Tawny Ports are simple to serve.
Porto masters create Aged Tawnies by maturing port in small oak barrels (or “pipes”) for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. The smaller barrels means there will be more of a chance to oxidize the wine and over time the ruby color of the young port is absorbed into the wood, giving it a tawny brown color, hence the name. As the wines age they become more subtle. The age on the bottle is an average since they are blended from multiple vintages or lots. As they get older they become more expensive, since more time and effort has gone into their maintenance and production. They also get more subtle and complex with age, so if you want a special treat try a 20 year. You will be surprised at how much flavor can be packed in one bottle.
A regular Tawny Port will have no year and is a blend of the last few years. These can range from $10 to $20, for example Graham’s Tawny Port is a bargain at $15 per bottle. Open bottles of Tawny can keep a few weeks up to a few months, because of the fortification process (adding that brandy functions as a preservative) as well as the aging process. As soon as you see a decade range, like 10 year or 20 year, the price will increase. Since they are filtered before a final bottling they don’t throw sediment like a Vintage Port, which can get to the same color through natural aging in bottle. That takes decades, whereas an Aged Tawny is ready to drink when you purchase it. Some of the best Aged Tawnies can be in the price range of Vintage Ports, from $30 to $60 and all of the best Porto houses make Tawnies. For example Warre’s names their 10yr Tawny Port “Otima” and bottle it in an elegantly small, clear bottle, to show the gorgeous caramel color. Graham’s and Fonseca also create some excellent, well-priced Aged Tawny Portos.
Some of the best values in Tawny Ports come from Australia, where they have producing Tawny-styled port-like wines for years, and they were incredibly popular with American servicemen during World War II. Though they are technically not Porto, they have many of the same flavors and tend to be half the price. One of my favorites that’s available locally from ABC Fine Wines and Spirits and gets great scores every year is the Buller Victoria Tawny Port. Not quite as nutty as a Portuguese version, with perhaps a little more caramel and raisin flavors, it also has less of the high-alcohol heat on the finish. This is an easy-quaffing Tawny Port at an affordable price of only $13 per bottle.
Think nutty and rich flavors of caramel, praline and raisins. One tastes less of the black fruit components, as the mingling of the Port with wood shifts the flavor profile. Though they can be paired with much the same fare, I tend to go for lighter food pairings with Tawny Ports. Think milder blue cheese, like buttery Blue Castello over tangy Blue Stilton, and salty, nutty cheeses like Old Amsterdam Grand Cru Aged Goudas pair very well. As a dessert option, a fruit galette or a caramel pecan pie are two of my favorite pairing options, though I’d also pair a caramel apple or any orchard fruit pie with a Tawny Port. Since the weather here in North Central Florida feels like summer, try one of these Tawny Ports. When served at 60º, they can be quite refreshing while still being rich in flavor. All of these Tawny Ports are available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits. Cheers!