Port 101 in Porto, Portugal
The moral of this story: Don’t taste 40 year Tawny Port! All lesser ports will be nice, but you’ll forever be thinking about the 40. You have been warned!
I just finished a two week European trip for my real job: 14 days, 8 flights, 7 cities – whew! Luckily, I did get a couple of breaks during the trip. First, I had an afternoon off in Porto, Portugal. I hadn’t done any advance planning, but I was able to find my way to the Taylor Fladgate winery for a little education in port.
I arrived hungry, and luckily, Taylor’s has a beautiful restaurant on the property. I had a Portugese cheese and charcuterie plate, and they give you a sample of their dry white port to start. Nice!
You might like to sit out on the porch on a nice day. We’ve had such a cool spring in Minnesota, I was eager to enjoy the sunshine along with the view.
Taylor Fladgate has a very nice tasting room with plenty of old containers, documents, awards and other memorabilia. No problem waiting for the next tour.
As a fortified wine, port starts out life like any red wine: crush the grapes, allow the grape juice to start fermenting. Before the fermentation is complete and while the wine is still quite sweet, a clear, neutral flavored brandy is added. The addition of the higher alcohol brandy stops the fermentation process. This leaves a red wine with 19-22% alcohol, yet it is very sweet. Ruby, Tawny and Vintage ports all start here. At Taylor, the base wine is made near the vineyards, then is transported to Porto for aging. Each of the port types has a different aging regimen.
As the name implies, vintage ports are made with the wine from just a single vintage. These wines are only made in the best vintages, on average only 3 out of 10 years. The port is aged 2 years in these very large wooden casks, then it goes into bottle unfiltered. Vintage ports go into heavy dark bottles with an extra long cork, as they need to be aged at least 10 years before they are enjoyed.
Late Bottled Vintage Port
LBV is supposed to deliver a bit of the character of a vintage port in a more accessible form. The grapes are from a single vintage, but they spend significantly longer in one of the large (20,000 liters!) casks, up to four to six years. Then they are filtered, bottled and sold. After bottling, the wine won’t age further and it is ready to drink.
Ruby port is aged for two to six years in huge, really huge oak tanks. Think swimming pool size! Because of the large ratio of wine to wood, ruby port is exposed to less oxygen and retains more of a fresh character. It also retains its’ dark color.
Tawny port is aged in smaller 600 liter barrels. Not just for a few years, they age in barrel for up to 40 years or even more. The smaller barrels expose the wine to more air over time, resulting in aromas and flavors not present in younger wines. 10 year tawny port is made of multiple vintages averaging 10 years. 20, 30 and 40 year tawny’s are similarly made of wines averaging that age. Once they go in bottle, they don’t really age any further.
How did they taste?
After the tour, they serve a couple of free samples. As you can see below, the LBV is much darker and more purple-red in color compared to the 10 year Tawny. The LBV tasted much more fruity and fresh, more like a red dessert wine. The Tawny was much lighter in color and had an oxidyzed element in its’ aroma. It was not so fruity and had a wonderful smooth texture.
There were a wide variety of tastings available at very reasonable cost: various ages of Tawny, port paired with chocolate (very popular), etc.. I went to the tasting bar to get some advice and met Christina. Once Christina found I was really interested in getting a better understanding of port, she gave me another whole lesson as well as some additional printed materials. What fun to find someone at the tasting bar with so much knowledge and enthusiasm!
On Christina’s advice, I tried the 20 and 40 year Tawny ports. The color difference was more subtle, but they both had that warm red tawny color. The nose was quite different between the two, with the 40 being significantly more interesting, bringing to mind nuts and spices. Tasting the 20 was pure pleasure, so rich and smooth, it was lovely. Side by side with the 40, there was no comparison. The 40 had that same rich smooth character, but there was depth and complexity to the flavor that had not developed in the 20. Thanks to Christina for guiding me to a 20 vs. 40 comparison, difficult to do anywhere outside the Taylor tasting room.
After the tasting I enjoyed a nice long walk back to my hotel before dinner.
Do you drink much port? Do you have a favorite? Want to split a bottle of the 40 year Tawny??