I don’t drink a lot of port. But a glass of tawny every now and then can be fun, even in the absence of Stilton, a roaring fire or a bearskin rug. In December, I poured some ports at the end of a tasting and they were more popular than I had imagined. One fifty-something participant commented how much he liked them but that he didn’t have the time in the winter to sit around and drink them. So he resolved to try a port in the summer. Indeed, that’s what those in the trade often do in Portugal, putting a 10- or 20-year-old tawny in the fridge and serving it chilled on a summer afternoon.
Last week I had the chance to taste through the lineup of Taylor’s tawny ports, from the 10-year-old to the 40-year-old. I’ll cut to the chase: I thought the 20-year-old was the most complete package, especially considering price.
I tasted them in the company of Adrian Bridge, managing director of Taylor who was in town to show off the new/old Scion, a cask-aged port dating from 1855. Bridge, an affable an eloquent man who was in the Cavalry Regiment (The 1st The Queen’s Dragoon’s Guards) of the British Army, told us that the 20-year-old is the best seller in America while the 10-year-old is the best seller in the UK.
On a winemaking/business note, Bridge said that thanks to evaporation in cask, starting with two liters of port now will yield only one liter of port in twenty years thanks to compounding the effect of three percent a year evaporation. (Tawnies are a blend of vintages and the age on the bottle is an approximation.) Similarly, they need four liters today to have one liter of forty-year-old tawny in 2051. When forecasting for growth in the market, he said the quantity of stock needed to be set aside is actually quite daunting.
All the tawnies are lighter in color than their vintage counterparts. The ten-year-old tawny (under $30), a pleasant wine with aged character, has notes of spice and dried fruits. But to me, the 20-year-old tawny is worth the premium (about $55) since it has enticing nutty, dried fruit, toffee, spice cake notes. The 30-year-old (about $110) has more tertiary notes in the aromas and seems dry by comparison. This is the house style apparently as the 10-year-old has 105 grams of residual sugar while the 20-year-old has 116 g/RS and the 30-year-old is about the same. The 40-year old (hard to find but about $175) has delicious layers with all lots of toffee, hazelnut, caramel complexity and a long finish. (Find these wines at retail.)
A final note: at the tasting we also had a few vintage ports, the first time I had tasted the 2003 and the 2007 side-by-side and, while both very young and excellent, the 2007 is superb. If you know someone born in this year, stashing away a few bottles of this will make an excellent gift many decades hence.