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Port Varietals ~ An Explantion


Time for Tawny

Philippe Boucheron

To many people the mere mention of Port conjures up images of crusty old colonels sitting in their clubs, falling asleep over their after dinner glass of Taylor’s ’63.  A very great vintage that had been ceremoniously decanted that morning by the Club secretary.

In fact Port is slowly but surely undergoing a quiet revolution.  A new, younger generation has discovered this extraordinary fortified wine and ignoring the patrician vintages has gone straight for quite my favourite – the aged Tawnys.  These wines, unlike vintage Ports that are  aged in their bottles, spend ten, twenty, thirty or more years in oak casks before filtering and bottling.  During this time their rich red colour drops out and they take on shades reminiscent of antique polished mahogany.

Versatility is the key to Tawnys success.  You just open and pour, no need to decant, and when you have finished jut put the cork back in the bottle and keep it in the fridge. Tawnys are perfect at Christmas as you can serve them with the Christmas Pudding, mince pies – hot or cold – as a warming aperitif and are the only drink that I know that is perfect with chocolate. It is not surprising therefore that a bottle makes the most perfect Christmas present.

All the leading Port houses produce old Tawnys and you pay more or less according to their age, which by the way is that of the youngest wine in the blend and not an approximate average.  Ten year olds are the mot affordable with thirty and even forty year old wines at around £90 a bottle being in the true luxury class.  Cleaver marketing with a smart half-litre bottle has helped make Warre’s the market leader with their Otima ten-year old that you will find at Asda, Sainsbury’s,Tesco and Waitrose for around £11.99 (around £16.79 70cl bottle equivalent). This is a lighter and perhaps more delicate ten-year old than most with plump dried fruit on the nose and hints of cinnamon and coffee on the finish.

Although most leading independent wine merchants will offer a choice of a few aged Tawnys, if you are looking for something extra special then the internet Cotswold Port Company of Moreton-in-March ( or tel: 01 608 650 562 ) is without a doubt the best source for miles around.  Run by Graeme and Jo Davis, a couple of Scots who have escaped to the comparative sanity of the Cotswolds, they have an amazing collection of all styles of Port including some exemplary ten-year olds such as the dried fruit and caramel Nieport (£29.95), Taylor’s (£24.95) and Delaforce ‘His Eminence’s Choice’ (£20.95)

If you are looking for something really special for great uncle Fred, then they will sell you a Taylor’s ten-year old (£39.95) or a thirty-year old from Ramos Pinto (£61.05) that is owned by Roederer, who make Cristal the WAGS favourite champagne.  Mind you if money is no object then they have a Graham’s forty-year old for a mere £94.95!

However without a doubt the very best value is Fletcher’s Ten Year Old from Aldi, a full 70cl bottle for only £7.99.   At this price they not only make most affordable and very acceptable presents, they will also add an extra dimension to your Christmas Day.

Styles of Port

Port is a fortified wine made from blends of indigenous hand-harvested grapes picked off the steep slopes of the Douro valley.  Much of the fruit is still pressed by treading three times a day in open concrete Lagars. Fermentation is stopped quite early by adding grape brandy which creates a rich, fruity wine with a typical strength of 20% ABV – and carries much higher excise duty than table wines.

Ruby Port is a simple inexpensive style, much enjoyed by the French as an aperitif.

Aged Tawny Port have been matured in oak casks for many years so their colour drops out. They are true aristocrats and much enjoyed by the wine trade. 


Colheitas are vintage Tawnys, invariably made from wines from a single year and a single farm or estate.

Vintage Port is the most noble and costly style. The wines are tasted and selected after three years in cask, they are then blended and bottled and aged on their side until they are ready for drinking. Although only truly excellent years are declared as a ‘vintage’ some houses bottle wines form above-average years are marketed as ‘Quintas’, wines from a single farm or estate.

Late Bottled Vintage is a relatively new style. These are wines from a specific vintage that have been held in cask for five or so years before being bottled.



Philippe Boucheron

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