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Jan 21, 2001 05:44 AM

Quick Port Question...

  • a

Hi all,

A friend of mine recently moved back to the U.K., and left me with an unopened bottle of port. The label reads like this:

W. & J. Graham & Co.
Years of Age Tawny
Finest cask matured Port

I've spent a good bit of time today reading through the past Chowhound posts on port, and am pretty sure that I know the answer to my question, but just want to be sure...

Is this port ready to drink now? (I'm guessing "yes", based on the info about cask aged ports).

This will actually be my first experience with tawny port. What do you port afficionados think of this label? Don't worry, I have no pre-conceived expectations for this tasting, so be blunt.


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  1. you have a very good friend, and, a wonderful bottle of wine. tawny ports are ready to be consumed upon release. what typifies them is they are blends of various batches of port that have been aged in cask for different numbers of years. the average age of the wine blended into a thirty year tawny is, as you might suspect, thirty years. thirty year tawnies aren't "uncommon," but they're far less so than ten and twenty year tawnies, and, exponentially more expensive. exponentially better, i'd add.

    what distinguishes a "tawny" port from a "vintage" port is that vintage ports are vinted from grapes from the same year. the wine is aged for two or three years in barrel and then bottled, where it requires significant aging. vintages are not "declared" every year, and, while there are few explicit instructions on when a port house (or 'shipper') can declare a particular year vintage, it is generally understood that they do so only in very good years. of course, one needs to rely on their good reputations to really know if any particular vintage is up to snuff (or read the often tedious wine press).

    i am not personally a big fan of vintage ports. they're great when then have a lot of age; twenty years at minimum for me - though the 1984's are drinking nicely now - but otherwise, i just find them too sweet. tawnies, thirty years especially, are what do it. a wonderful melange of the flavors of dried fruits and nuts, and sweetness balanced with good acidity.

    lucky you.

    10 Replies
    1. re: jr

      Okay, I am unabashedly revealing myself to be the wine idiot that I actually am, but can someone please answer the following question...

      Jr responded to my original post with the phrase:
      >a wonderful melange of the flavors of dried fruits >and nuts, and sweetness balanced with good acidity.

      Where the heck does the flavor of dried fruits and nuts come from???? Is it from the grapes? Or from the cask? Or is someone sitting there throwing in dried pieces of cherry, apple, walnuts, or what-have-you into the cask?

      Trust me, I'm not being facetious, or beligerent. I've always wondered, reading the reviews of port wines tasting by Chowhounds, how all of the described aromas and tastes infuse themselves into a single bottle of port.

      Can anybody help?


      1. re: Andy P.

        Andy, I'm on the edge of my seat awaiting the answer to your question. However little you know about wine, I know less. Thanks for asking a question I didn't even know enough to ask! pat

        1. re: Andy P.

          Believe it or not, these apparently indulgent and capricious analogies have been found to have a basis in science. Often when you have complex organic compounds (as in wine), there are all sorts of esthers and such, some of which may constitute the chemical basis for other familiar smells. That is, stuff that tastes like currants may really literally contain currant chemicals, or at least ones very structurally similar.

          Grape juice and wood (of course wine's aged in wood) contain plenty of these sorts of compounds, and aging brings them out (through oxidation, etc). This is why wine is a complex and sought-after drink, and why aging (for at least most wines) makes it better.

          Strangely, the horrible smell of oil refineries is also a complex odor from organic compounds, but ones we happen to perceive negatively. Winemakers over the years have learned to focus only the good-smelling chemicals, though I suspect it might be technically feasible to develop a wine that tastes like the NJ Turnpike.


          1. re: Jim Leff


            Thanks for a perfect laymen's answer to this question.


            1. re: Jim Leff

              >Strangely, the horrible smell of oil refineries is >also a complex odor from organic compounds,

              Certain German Rieslings (More in the Mosel) have a very distinct and quite pleasurable petroleum nose which also shows up on the palate.

            2. re: Andy P.

              As pointed out by Big-Dog, the organic chemistry of fermentation of complex fruit concoctions like grape mash imbues all types of flavors to wine, from eucalyptus to cherries to barnyards to stones. Add wood barrels and you get vanilla, oak, carmel, and even nuts. With ageing the acids and alcohol form an infinite variety of esters ("tropical fruit", apples, etc., etc). Ports, with more alcohol and typically more age have a greater abundance of tarry, chocolaty overtones than most other wines.
              By the way, wood ports are nothing like aged vintage ports in terms of complexity and interest.

            3. re: jr

              Hi jr,

              Thank you so much for the critique. My friend figured that the bottle had been sitting around for about 1 year, before being passed on to me.

              Is there a certain time that a tawny port starts to "turn" (e.g. vinegar)? This could be an ignorant question, but, when it comes to wine, I'm the same.


              1. re: Andy P.

                andy--anything can turn to vinegar. but since this stuff probably won't get better with age, don't tempt fate. Open and drink sometime soon.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  Not to put too fine a point on it, but ports will not turn to vinegar. It takes special yeast cultures (or a lot of luck and a bottle exposed to air for several weeks to catch the right wild yeast) to make vinegar. An overaged port will finally become astringent and lose it's fruit.

                  1. re: Griller141

                    yes, you're right. but I think in this context, the term "turn to vinegar" is a euphemism for an even more unpleasant (and even less scientifically likely) outcome!

                    ; )


            4. Andy, ready to drink now, and should be pretty good, depending on whether or not your friend took good care of the bottle...and whether he bought it in good condition (and if the store stored it well...and the shipping to Japan went well).

              Keep it away from heat and light, and (of course) keep it on its side till you drink it.

              Oh, and please let us know how it goes!