You may wonder why I am writing about Port and calling it a refreshing summer drink. Most people consider Port a winter drink, to be enjoyed curled up by the fireside. Well, not necessarily so. One of my favorite summer drinks is actually chilled Tawny Port. In fact the Portuguese themselves have long been known to enjoy this invigorating tipple on a hot summer's day.
What Is Port?
Let me explain Tawny Port in the context of all Port wines. Firstly, Port is a protected designation. Port wines can only come from the Douro Valley in Portugal. Port is also a fortified wine (like Sherry or Madeira), whereby a spirited alcohol is added to the wine during its production process.
Port wines are wonderfully complex. They are not varietal, but magnificent blends of local varieties such as Touriga Naçional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. Additionally most Port wines are not vintage wines. Instead they are complex blends of several years. Vintage Port wines are extremely special wines and only made in exceptional years.
Understanding Port Wine Styles, especially Tawny
Port wines can be divided into two types. Those that are bottle matured, and those that are wood (large cask) matured. Tawny ports are wood matured ports. All their maturation is done in cask before they are bottled.
Wood matured ports do not throw a sediment and therefore do not need decanting. They also do not continue to improve in the bottle and should be consumed reasonably quickly once the bottle is opened.
Types of Tawny Port
If you have bought Tawny port before you are probably aware that there are different types, qualities and price points. Tawnies essentially break down further into two types. Tawnies without an indication of age and Tawnies with an indication of age. All Tawnies must be aged for a minimum of 6-7 years before bottling. The better tawnies are those with an indication of age and typically come as 10 year old, 20 year old, 30 year old or 40 year old. The older the tawny, the longer it has spent ageing in cask before being bottled and typically the more complex the flavors.
The Color and Taste of Tawny Port
As the name implies, these wines are a 'tawny' brown. They are much paler in color than Ruby Port due to their long wood ageing. Tawnies, like all port styles, are sweet. This is because the fortification occurs during fermentation, well before all the grape sugars has been converted into alcohol.
Tawny Ports can be deliciously captivating. The older the wine, the more evolved and layered the flavors, which slowly draw you in. For a 10 year old Tawny aromas and flavors are a wonderful medley of nuts (almonds, toasted walnuts, hazelnuts), dried fruits (dates, golden raisins, cherries), caramel, toffee, crème brulée.
Serving Tawny Port
While Tawny Port will always have a special place during the cold winter months, I personally prefer to drink it chilled during the summer. Simply put the bottle in the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving. I don't add any ice, as I feel it dilutes the flavor, but if you prefer it on the rocks, go ahead, there are no set rules! A chilled Tawny, savored as a pre-dinner drink is a great way to whet the appetite. There is also nothing nicer than sipping it slowly, lounging in the garden, reading a good book. A contemplative, relaxing wine – perfect for vacation.
Suggested Tawny Ports to Try
For my summer sipping I tend to stick to the 10-year-old Tawnies. These cost around $30, which might seem a lot, but is in fact great value as you sip Port slowly – so a bottle can last a few days to a week. But remember, once opened these wines are best consumed within a week.
Excellent examples to choose from include:
- Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port, $30
- Fonseca 10 Year Old Tawny Port, $30
- Croft 10 Year Old Tawny Port, $27
- Warre's Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port, $30
- Dow's 10 Year Old Tawny Port, $28
Am I alone out there enjoying chilled port during the summer or how many fans are already out there enjoying this favorite summer drink? If you have not tried it, give it a try. You might be surprised at how delicious and refreshing it actually is.
Until next week, enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)