A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Winespeed suggested using tawny port as an aperitif at cocktail hour. I tried it, and enjoyed in thoroughly. Here are some more facts to digest.
The sweet fortified wine known as Port, from the Douro region of Portugal, is one of the most complex and ageworthy wines in the world. Of the top five most important styles, aged tawny Port gets my vote for the most sublime style of Port. (So-called young tawny Port, simple and not aged very long, are not often exported). Its flavors—toasted nuts, brown sugar, figs, and vanilla—are like some otherworldly sophisticated version of cookie dough. And the texture of a great tawny is pure silk. The wines used in the blend for an aged tawny are usually wines of the highest quality. Tawny Ports are kept a minimum average of ten years in barrel until they become tawny/auburn in color.
All Ports begin as a sweet wine with about 7 percent residual sugar (70 grams sugar per liter), fortified to about 20 percent alcohol. It is the maturation and aging processes that set the styles of Port apart. Tawny Ports are blends of Ports from different years. Each of those Ports has been kept in barrels for a long period of time.
Tawny Ports are labeled as either 10, 20, 30, or 40 years old, and sometimes even more. The age listed on the label is the average age of all the wines used in the blend. And it’s not a rough guess. Port Shippers are required to document the wines in the final blend, and then that final blend is sent to the Port Wine Institute to be taste-tested by an expert panel before the tawny Port can be certified and sold.
A word about sweetness. While Tawny Port is sweet, it does not taste saccharin or candylike. At least the great ones don’t. Indeed, Tawny Port made well should start off tasting sweet but finish tasting dry. That’s because the acidity, alcohol, and tannin in the wine are all carefully calibrated to balance out the sweetness.
Tawny Ports are among the best-loved Ports in Portugal, France, and Britain, where they are often drunk (chilled) both as an aperitif, as well as at the close of a meal.You may remember I told you about my golfing trip to Portugal. We spent the mornings golfing, and the afternoons searching for rare ports. Let me repeat the story for those of you who are newcomers to my emails.
Upon arrival in the Algarve for golf, we decided to spend the afternoons looking for rare ports. My erstwhile and dedicated sidekick, Mr. Mike had a list of vintage ports that he wanted to track down. Golf almost became secondary to the hunt for ports.
At the top of our list was the 1955 Quinto do Noval. Retail price today is about $450 USD, back then, I think it was about $200. Needless to say, I decided to just be act as the sidekick, mostly silent sidekick!
After a particularly good round of golf, we headed down the backroads in search of dusty old bottegas, or wine shops in the Algarve. After asking directions from some locals, and several wasted stops in convenience store liquor shops, we finally found the port’s holy grail. It was a dusty, quaint, but hardly small bottega down a dusty little road.
The 1955 was sitting there, with an ample layer of dust. The owner appeared totally uninterested, until we asked about price. It was not negotiable!!! We left.
Another round of golf nearby, somehow drew us back to this dusty little bottega. But outside, I suggested a change in tactics. Perhaps we should try a package deal. So, I suggested we also buy the 1997 Quinto do Noval, now retail $275.
Upon entering, he barely paid notice to us, but finally came out to talk to us. We asked him if we could package the 55 and 97 for a substantial discount. We tried for 30%, but ended up around 20% off. Mission accomplished! Not bad for two dumb country boys from the Valley.
So, that is my port story. Neither bottle has been opened, as of today. We made a deal. When either of our kids got married or graduated from college, we would open one of them. After a graduation and a marriage, it remains unopened. Needless to say, we are sitting on a “gold” mine of vintage ports.
Several trips to Porto have been scuttled over the years, for various reasons. I will get there someday soon!