Thirty-three tip top Tawny Port tips
During October, I was tasked with selecting 20 benchmark examples of Tawny Port for Decanter. Let me tell you, it was a tough exercise – the whittling down, not the tasting! Out now (in Decanter magazine’s January edition and online (Decanter Premium) here), my Tawny Port ‘Expert’s Choice’ reflects the stylistic diversity of Tawny Port (by house and category) across a spectrum of price points.
Having tasted 80 Tawny Port samples to arrive at the requisite 20 recommendations for Decanter, let me share another baker’s dozen. First, a few reflections.
As you can see, the 20-Year-Old category is uber-competitive – with five recommended below and four featured in my Decanter Expert’s Choice, there was lots to like here. It’s a question of finding your preferred style – hopefully my Decanter feature and the tasting notes below will help you on that journey.
Niepoort has long had a strong reputation for Tawny Port, which is sometimes eclipsed by everything else they do so well! I reckon fans of their Douro wines will recognise and enjoy Niepoort’s Tawny Port house style, with its lovely freshness and detail.
Tasted category by category, the tasting also put a spotlight on custodianship and blending skills. Spending many years in barrel, for Premium Tawny Ports, barrel hygiene is key to a clean, long finish and balanced wood acid (volatile acidity). As Ana Rosas from Ramos Pinto puts it, “[W]hat we really sell is tradition – how to take care of wines which are the soul of Port houses.”
The big players’ depth of stock inevitably puts them at an advantage when it come to stitching a blend together. It’s always fun to see the different styles of houses in the same ownership. Take Graham’s silkiness and sweetness, versus Dow’s drier, mocha-edged style.
Smaller houses – especially Tawny specialists – punched above their weight. I was particularly impressed with Andresen’s elegant Tawny Ports which, I might add, represent great bang for buck at Laithwaites. Vasques de Carvalho showed remarkable consistency, the style mellow, very smooth and velvety. Though hardly a Tawny Port specialist, Quinta do Vallado impressed too.
The diversity of style could not find better contrast than Andresen’s elegance and Quinta do Noval’s sheer charisma. The spirit (often a notch higher at Noval) was a positive here – very much in balance with the well-structured style.
Dows 10-Year-Old Tawny Port
A smoky espresso-edged rich, nutty palate, with orange peel and creamy chocolate praline going through. Good vigour and line. 20% £19.50/bottle at Fareham Wine Cellars
Vasques de Carvalho 10-Year-Old Tawny Port
Smooth, rich, nutty, with an attractive cedary, green edge, smoozed with caramel. Long, lingering, with caramelised oranges and spicy black cardamom complexity; lovely balance. Tasted from a half bottle 20% £27.90/75cl bottle at The Wine Line
Kopke 10-Year-Old Tawny Port
Tastes older (which will appeal to be some and not others), it is deep and woody, with spicy resonance and harmonious boozy warmth to its velvety feast of fig pudding, sticky gingerbread and Madeira honeycake. The salt caramel undertow persists. 20% Currently on deal at Hennings £19.50 down from £23.50
Dow’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
As you would expect, denser than the 10-Year-Old, with singed tarte tatin, medjool dates, mocha and black cardamom. The finish is long, poised and powerful, with a relatively dry impression sweetness-wise. I enjoyed an ozone note – a taste of sea air – to the finish. 20% £36.50 at Fareham Wine Company
Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
This 20-Year-Old Tawny Port showcases producer and sub-region (Baixo Corgo) perfectly. It’s very spicy, with zingy grapefruit marmalade, making for a lightness of spirit. Peanut brittle and smokier roast hazelnut bring savoury undertones. Lovely freshness and spicy persistence. 19.5% £46.49 at The Wine Library
Quinta do Vallado 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
A contrasting style from the Baixo Corgo – silkier, woodier, with medjool dates and lingering, nutty, caramel torrefaction. 19.5% £30.65 (50cl) at Vinum
Andresen Royal Choice 20-Year-Old Tawny Port (cask sample)
Very Andresen, very elegant, with lovely flow and detail, this is a mellifluous tawny, with orange peel, sea salt and ripe, beautifully integrated grapefruit acidity to its delicate, honeyed dried fruit and nut palate. Silky and fresh, long and lingering. Gorgeous and a terrific buy at £30 at Laithwaites
Niepoort 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
The house style puts the accent on spiciness and freshness. Beautifully executed with spicy, lifted cardamom to nose and palate and a subtly silky, lively palate, which fans out, revealing layers of detail – salt, cedar, cut grapefruit, pear skin, café crème cigar, praline, toast and ozone. Lovely tension, lift and linger. 20% £66.75/75cl bottle at The Whiskey Exchange or £32.40/half bottle at Gourmet Hunters
Vasques de Carvalho 30-Year-Old Tawny Port
A lovely lifted nose, with cognac, dried honey, dried apricot, orange peel and roast hazelnut, which follow through on a rich, dense, layered palate. As if confirming the gear shift from 20-year-old to 30-year-old, a high-toned touch of vinagrinho together with black cardamom and green walnut notes balance the sweet, rich core, as does the persistent acidity. Half bottle sampled.
Very well-defined/structured, a firm backbone of acidity lends poise to its toffee apple-edged dried apricot, orange peel and pear skin flavours. Still plenty of primary expression here, but nutty depth and resonance too. Taut, very precise, it actually benefits from decanting/air to reveal its subtler cedar, ozone and salty layers. Currently on deal at £104.99 down from £122.99 at Simply Wines Direct
Niepoort Tawny Port Colheita 2007
A reddish plummy hue, a little bricky around the edge and youthful, still transitioning, quite vinous even, with primary fruit – dried plum/plum frangipane (almond) tart – spice (liquorice) and herbal lift (chinato herbs). A touch of resin/esteva too. The spice, freshness and intensity (a great reflection of this classic vintage year, which was relatively mild) make for an animated palate. 19.5% £24.70/half bottle at Theatre of Wine
Niepoort Tawny Port Colheita 2004
Three years older and a touch mellower, but elegant still, with primary fruit – sweet glace cherry/red cherry conserve, plum, dried cherry, sour cherry and gentle cedar spice and chinato leafy lift to the finish. Young, but eminently broachable. 20% £42.00 at Buon Vino
Quinta do Noval Tawny Port Colheita 1997
Almost eye-bleeding intensity to this well-structured Colheita which, in some respects, is quite austere, with its firm backbone of acidity and terrific saltiness. Tart tatin, salt caramel and, building on the long, resonant finish, roast hazelnut/praline notes, which make for a smokin’ finish, with ozone complexity and cognac lift. Charismatic. 21.5% £48.99 at Sandhams Wine Merchant
Below you can find recent tasting notes on other highly recommended Tawny Ports tasted this year; click here for links to all previous Tawny Port tasting notes.