Tawny Port: What Is It?

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Drinking a glass of beautifully fortified wine is perhaps a dream of every true wine connoisseur. With that said, how exactly do you choose a perfect wine that is geared to complement your palette? Well, that is one of the many reasons you choose a Tawny port wine.

For the uninitiated, this is an excellent wine that comes in the perfect hues of mahogany. What’s more, you will find them abundantly in all types of flavors starting from chocolates, coffee, caramel, buts, or any other form of dried fruit.

If you enjoy drinking port wines, Tawny port will stand out with the status of whiskey in the port wine industry. As with whiskey, a large part of the tawny port’s flavor is derived from storing and aging them in beautiful wooden wine casks.

In this article, we will learn more about Tawny port, including its origin, flavors, taste, and everything in between. So, if you’re fond of wines, and especially port wines, this is one of the things you need to know about.

What is a tawny port?

If you are hearing about Tawny port for the first time, it is only likely that you are confused. To clarify things for you, we will sweeten the deal. These are but a variant of the port. Like Tawny, you will find yet another popular variant of port wine called the Ruby.

Originating from the same family, they have several shared characteristics. First, you will find that both these wines, and Tawny, in particular, are fortified and extremely sweet. As with the Tawny variant, the Ruby variant of the port is also primarily cultivated from distant Douro valleys of Portugal. What’s more, both these wines are also derived from the same variant of grape and they are available in a wide range of styles, variants, qualities, and more.

The biggest difference between Ruby and Tawny port wines is perhaps the process of aging. While both these ports undergo some aging process, the Ruby variant doesn’t spend as much time fortified in your wine cask. In some cases, they are kept in stainless steel casks which is never the case with Tawny port.

Unlike Ruby, Tawny is aged beautifully amid the wood. Following that, it is bottled in small barrels. This makes way for a slower period of oxidation. Additionally, it also impacts the taste, flavor profile, and the way Tawny appears.

Where is Tawny port found?

As mentioned already, the Tawny port is primarily manufactured in the Douro river valley that sits across Portugal. Different brands use different variants of grapes and other agents to create this wine. In the following section, you will learn more about how these wines are made.

How do you make Tawny Port?

At this point, you are probably curious about the entire process in which you make Tawny port wines. While the process is intricate and complex, it shares several similarities with the manufacturing and storing process of whiskey and regular port wines.

Winemakers who want to make a fresh batch of Tawny first create their unique style by using a mixture of several vintages. This adds more flavor profile to the final product and when you take a sip it doesn’t taste all the same.

As with regular port wine, Tawny port wine is fortified right after it is fermented for the first time. The fortification process is similar to the majority of regular wines. After the grapes are harvested they are pressed for extracting the flavor and fermented until the level of alcohol gets to at least seven percent.

The wine is still young at this point and thus it will undergo the fortification process. Depending on the style of the brand, the wine is often fortified with brandy and other elements.

The main and distinctive difference appears following the fermentation process. The key essence of Tawny port lies in its unique flavor which is a result of consistent but slow oxidation in a proper wooden wine cask.

Unlike a basic port wine or a Ruby port, most Tawny port wines are steadily aged in casks of 600 to 640 L made from high-quality oak wood. In other instances, they are also stored in wooden lodge pipes. Here too the quality of the wood is given the highest priority and the makers ensure their best to slow the process of oxidation. Most Tawny wines are aged between seven and 40 years. In rare scenarios, you may even find a bottle that is more than half a decade old.

Note: While many wonders why Oak is the primary choice of wood when it comes to aging Tawny port, there is a significant reason behind this. When the cask of oak gradually melts, the wine esterifies. Subsequently, the color of the wine starts to fade, and it develops trace amounts of esters and other elements that add to its overall fragrance and fruitiness. 

How does Tawny Port taste?

Now that you know how exactly one makes Tawny port wines, you are probably wondering what the flavor profile of this wine is. As you understand at this point, this wine is available in a vivid range of tastes and fragrances. Some top picks would be almond notes or notes of toasted walnuts, flavors of sweet hazelnut and/or butterscotch, caramel and toffee flavors, and of course, the iconic crème Brule.

The colors will range from an intense shade of pink to the deepest hue of brown. The variance in color is due to the variance in the house or preparation style. Depending on the type of Tawny port you choose, it will have around 20% alcoholic content and an acidity level ranging between three and four percent.

In the following section, we will take a closer look at the different types of Tawny port and try to understand their variance in color and taste.

Basic tawny

As evident from the name, this is a simple and basic variant of the Tawny port wine. Its body is almost transparent and as you take the first sip you are likely to get flavors and scents of dry cherry, roasted nuts, teamed up with a perfectly rich cream of a bittersweet shock of dark chocolate.

While it is certainly not sophisticated, this is an excellent and ideal option for anyone who is just navigating their way into port wines.

10-year blend

Unlike the former, the 10-year Tawny blend usually has a vivid garnet reddish hue. In some cases, it may even have hues of pink or highlights of orange. It is as transparent as looking through sunglasses and the wine has flavors of orange peels, toasted nuts, and dried fruits. The texture is predominantly silky and the finish is consistent and smooth.

20-year blend

This blend of the Tawny is pale and highly transparent. It almost appears like copper with a bright hue of orange and red. As with the other Tawnies, you will find similar fruity fragrances in the 20-year blend. However, the scent here is subtle, and depending on the manufacturing style, it may come with a bunch of flowers, some dried fruits (like figs), peels or orange, and (if you are lucky) pork or beef jerky.

The scent is soft and enticing and the palate is exceptionally smooth. While a first sip will give you a salty taste, you will soon be left with a lasting aftertaste of butter teamed with toffee and caramel.

30-year blend

In this blend, the main showstopper is the aging wood with the perfect combination of subtle fruity scents. The color of this wine is a primarily deep brown with sudden and frequent dashes of green across the body.

40-year blend

Rich and extremely sweet, you can teel a 40-year blend when you have your first sip. These wines also exhibit multiple signs of maturity and a vinegary aftertaste.

Bottom Line

You can try Tawny port wine with a range of different foods. For instance, you can pair it with an appetizer or send it off as the last meal, namely the dessert wine. The latter is preferred by many thanks to the natural sweetness of Tawny port.

You can also pair the beverage with different types of cheeses ranging from blue, mozzarella, pepper jack, or any other form of hard or soft cheese. Again, you can also go the unconventional route pair up this wine with some salty desserts like a pecan pie or some delicious caramel cheesecake. Finally, if you are looking for a late-night snack, you might want to pair this wine with some deliciously flavored dark chocolate.

While serving the wine, do not worry about using decanters because it is already aged in a wooden cask. Directly serve the wine from the bottle at a temperature range between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius. Remember, once you open a bottle of Tawny it can last you for several weeks, so you needn’t worry about that.

However, if you are storing the wine for the first time, try to store it facing the side in a cool environment which is also preferably dark like a wine cellar. Before you serve the wine for the first time, allow it to stay upright for at least a day.

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