Lately there has been a lot of Port in my life. This is a good thing. I went to a Portuguese wine tasting about a week and a half ago. One of those wines was a nice 20-year-old Tawny Port, and I ended up leaving with one of those bottles, which I am reviewing here today. Then, our company wine tasting at work last week was all about Port. We had a Ruby, a Late Bottle Vintage (LBV), a Tawny Port with indication of age (also a twenty-year-old) and a Vintage Port.
Here are some basics on Port. Port wine is a fortified wine that is made by the addition of a grape spirit or Brandy (in this case 77% abv) to a red wine blend that is fermented to about 7-8% abv. This kills the remaining yeast and stops the fermentation, leaving residual sugar as well as preserving the wine. The British began importing Port by that name by ship in 1678. This process originally began to protect the wine from the long hot voyages by ship however it was an afterthought and the method known today of fortifying it during fermentation has only existed since the 1800s. The source wines are made inland in the Douro river region of Portugal and then brought downstream to Vila Nova de Gaia (originally by boats) where it is then aged, blended and bottled in loges (warehouses) and then exported. The wine takes its name from Oporto, on the other side of the river, from where it was originally exported. Now of course there are modern methods of exporting the wine directly from the Douro region (since 1986).
The Douro became the first legally demarcated wine region in the 1750s though wine has been made here for two thousand years. And while Port-type wines are made elsewhere, none replicate the unique terroir or expression of Port, nor can it be legally called Port. The source wine is usually a blend of local stars Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão, but there are almost thirty types of grapes used in making it. They are all thick-skinned small berries that produce the rich, concentrated must needed to make a fine Port. The son of the founder of Taylor’s was one of the pioneers of the Port trade, and they’ve excelled at it ever since. Taylor’s actually still crushes (treads) the grapes by foot for richer results.
There are several types of Port with various methods of production. The winemakers will decide with each harvest which must is best suited to which type of Port. Your standard Ruby Ports are not aged beyond 2-3 years in oak casks and are then bottled ready to drink, whereas Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) Ports are from a single vintage, aged for four years in oak and sometimes an additional three in bottle. These are therefore richer than Ruby as they improve with bottle age, like a Vintage Port does. And like a Vintage Port, decanting will usually be necessary. Reserve Ruby Ports are aged five years and are the finest blend of vintages, with richer fruit. Then come Late Bottle Vintage Modern Ports which are aged 6 years and are fined and filtered and ready to drink. All of these Ports are darker in color, have more berry and blackcurrant flavors than tawny or vintage ports and are traditionally enjoyed younger.
In the Tawny category you have basic Tawny which are aged 2-3 years and are paler than Ruby Ports due to longer cask oxidative aging. Reserve Tawny Ports are matured 7 years in wood and are smooth blends with nice complexity. Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports that are aged around 8 years and are from a single vintage so they will have a bottling date on the label too. Then you have the Tawny Ports with indication of age that I drank last night. These are the finest of the Tawny Ports, and some are aged over 40 years, with the price increasing based on the age. These are smoother with more nutty and raisin flavors and aromas due to the prolonged time in oak casks and longer exposure to oxygen. This is an average age and will have the bottling date on the label.
White Ports are made from classic regional white varities, aged 2-3 years and can be made in drier or sweeter styles.
Vintage Ports are intended for aging in bottle though they do spend about 2 years in oak first. They are a blend of the finest wines of a vintage. They are not made every vintage but the years they are made is usually a collective decision on the part of all the Port houses to promote a great year. They require decanting, as do single Quinta Vintage Ports which means they are from a single vineyard. There are also Crusted Ports which are produced the same way as Vintage Ports but are from several vintages as opposed to one. They get their name from a crust of natural sediment which develops in the bottle and requires decanting. With all this variety of styles and flavors, there are endless pairing possibilities.
Last night I was looking for a nice after-dinner cordial to pair with my delicious rich chocolate father’s day cake, and so I opened up the Port I had bought at the tasting. This is a fine example, with the expected nutty, chocolate, coffee and oxididative aromas on the nose with the addition of a nice acidity on the palate. There really couldn’t have been a better pairing in my opinion. Wine Enthusiast gave this 90 points, Wine Spectator 92 points and The Wine Advocate also 92 points. Smooth and honeyed, it is delicious and reminds me why I bought it after tasting it. Another great thing about Port is you can enjoy it for weeks without it spoiling. If it lasts that long without being enjoyed, that is.
Said Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate on Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Ports:
“It is my opinion that Taylor’s tawny ports are the best of their type. When tasted against other tawnys, they all exhibit more aromatic personalities, greater fruit and ripeness, and a wonderful sweetness and length. Although I find the Thirty Year Old Tawny admirable, I prefer the richer, more vibrant Twenty Year Old Tawny.”
This fine Port cost $47.99 which is the average price for this brand, age and style of Port.