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Dec 21, 2007 08:01 AM

Port rookie....

Season's Greetings all! I started really enjoying port about 2 years ago, I like a range of the cheaper stuff 15$/bottle to what I've tried at about 80$/bottle, pretty typical brands like Taylor Flagate or Grahams, I've tried a white port that was ok but was nothing noteable. Does anyone have any suggestions for vintages or just fav bottles I can try out? I have access to a great selection & price range, but I would for now just go pick by lable...thanks in advance....

PS: ...what does Tawny mean?

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  1. Not all houses declare the same vintages. Some of the better, near universally declared vintages are 2003, 2000, 1997, 1994, 1985. The 1994s are truly outstanding. While I've not yet sampled any of the 2003s, the torrid conditions of that year had such a deleterious effect on so many wines that I wouldn't buy anything I hadn't tried first (admittedly, the dry red Douros seemed to suffer less than many other European wines in 2003).

    Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate are my go-to houses, with Dow, Noval, Quinta do Infantado, Quinta do Vesuvio and Nieport comprising the second string. Graham can be sensational, though they're often a little sweeter than I prefer. For earlier drinking at more affordable prices, look for single-quinta ports from "undeclared" vintages.

    Traditional tawnies are matured in wood, not the bottle, which slowly oxidizes them. The colour turns paler and browner (i.e. tawny), the tannins turn smoother faster, the flavour turns nuttier. These days, 20 years seems to be the sweet spot: wines that are fully evolved but retain their vigour and remain fairly affordable.

    3 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      Wow! carswell, thanks for all the info, those are some great leads to keep me going, much appreciated...Happy Holidays!

      1. re: Recyclor

        I'm no port expert, but I like it, and I went to a port tasting about 2 weeks ago where I got to sample a wide range of ports, from vintage 1970 Dow's to a Smith Woodhouse white port, from 20 year old Tawny (Taylor Fladgate) to a ruby port (blech...) We sampled about four vintage ports, from the years 1970, 1977, 1983, and 1997.

        Must say, the impression of the entire attending group was that the oldest vintage ports showed the most seductive and unique character. The oldest port we tasted, the 1970 Dow vintage, really distinguished itself from the pack. It had a really unusual but undeniable sasparilla note, or, as one taster noted, "root beer" note. The wine still tasted fresh, and I had the feeling that it would continue to improve over the next 5-10 at least.

        In contrast, the 1983 tasted young; promising, but like it still had a ways to go to fulfill its potential.

        Vintage port seems to be able to age for a remarkably long time. The problem is: do you have the patience to wait for the port to hit its peak, or do you have the willingness to spend upwards of $200 on an older vintage bottle?

        I think that 20 year old tawny is actually a good place to start in terms of value and quality. Taylor Fladgate is a good producer of tawny, and its 20 year old is not too expensive ($70 in Canada, but probably a whole lot cheaper in the US). I'm thinking of buying a bottle for the holidays, as a matter of fact.

        1. re: anewton

          ...thanks for the input Adam, I'm gonna snoop around T.O. and find a tasting I can attend now...

    2. There have been about three recent articles, posted here, on Port. Jason (Zin1953) had some great comments, and many others chimed in. You might want to do a "search this board" for Port and follow some of these threads. Next to buying about 6 mixed cases, and trying them all, or reading a dozen good books on Port, about all that you will need, for the next two years at least, will be in those articles.


      1. The Wine Rack has Orion Cabernet Franc port as well as a Sherry. I haven't tried the sherry but the port is amazing & at $12.99 a bottle an absolute steal.

        1. Right now you can still find the 1983 Fonseca for under $100. I think that is the best Port on the market for drinking right now in that price range.

          1. OK, there are many ways to categorize Porto . . .

            One version of an outline (hard to do when you can't use tabs) of Porto would look something like this. Keep in mind, by the way, that there are many different ways to do this outline; also, this applies only to real (i.e.: Portuguese) Porto.

            1. Ruby Porto (defined as red Porto wines bottled with less than seven years of wood aging).

            1a. No indication of age.
            1a1. True Ruby Porto, bottled very young.
            1a2. Vintage Character Porto (a fuller, "beefier" style of Ruby Porto).
            1a3. Crusted Porto (a non-vintage blend of between four-and-six years of age).

            1b. Ruby Ports with a Vintage date.
            1b1. Late Bottled Vintage Porto (by law, bottled between 4-6 years of vintage -- note, numbers here are rounded off).
            1b1a. Traditional, unfined, unfiltered (this will improve with further bottle aging).
            1b1b. "Regular" (fined and/or filtered; generally doesn't improve with bottle age).
            1b2. Vintage Porto.
            1b2a. True Vintage Porto (a producer's "main," showcase product -- by law, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).
            1b2b. Single-quinta Vintage Porto (either from a small, estate, or from a large producer, but made from a single estate; again, bottled two years after vintage [again, rounded] and capable of great improvement with added bottle age).

            2. Tawny Porto -- red Porto wines bottled with 7+ years of wood aging.

            2a. No indication of age.
            2a1. Young Tawny (often a mix of Ruby and Tawny).
            2a2. True Tawny Porto.
            2a3. Tawny Reserva, a usually branded bottling of Tawny Porto that is "older" than the "true" Tawny Porto.

            2b. With a general indication of age.
            2b1. 10-Year Tawny Porto.
            2b2. 20-Year Tawny Porto.
            2b3. 30-Year Tawny Porto.
            2b4. 40-Year Tawny Porto.

            2c. With a specific indication of age.
            2c1. Colheita Porto.
            2c2. Garrafeira Porto.

            3. White Porto.

            3a. Bottled young.
            3a1. Dry.
            3a2. Sweet.

            3b. Bottled after 7+ years of wood aging.
            3b1. Dry.
            3b2. Sweet.

            * * * * *

            True Tawny Porto comes in three categories:

            a) with no age statement at all, and relatively inexpensive (some are actually blends of Ruby and White; but a true Tawny Porto must spend at least seven years in wood prior to bottling);

            b) those with a rough indication of age (10-Year, 20-Year, 30-Year, and 40-Year);

            c) Tawny Porto from a single harvest, i.e.: Colheita Porto.

            To MY taste, I tend to enjoy 10's and 20's (older than that and, to my taste, they are often too woody and lose too much fruit), but Colheitas are sublime. But they can be quite expensive. I would first explore other 10- and 20-Year Tawnies and discover the other flavors and characters found in the offerings from other producers. I'd look for producers like Barros, Neipoort, and Noval (to name but three). Taylor is quite good, but I confess I prefer these three.

            For inexpensive Tawnies, I actually prefer the Tawnies from Australia -- wines such as Hardy's "Whiskers' Blake" or Yalumba's "Clocktower" -- to the "true" low-end Tawny Porto . . . except for cooking. Then I use true Porto.

            Colheitas are from a single year's harvest, but are NOT Vintage Porto -- even though no wine from another year was blended into it. These age for at least 7 years in wood, and will carry *both* the calendar year of harvest and the calendar year of bottling on the bottle. Thus you could have (for example) a 1981 Colheita bottled in 1988 -- but you could also have a 1981 Colheita bottled in 1994 or in 2007 . . . .


            10 Replies
            1. re: zin1953

              Sheesh, I'm gonna have to read through that at least once more...your numbering efforts alone are appreciated! Thanks for the breakdown Jason...Cheers & Happy Holidays to you....

              1. re: Recyclor

                You're welcome -- as I said, it's difficult to do an outline without tabs, but . . . also, keep in mind, this only applies to Porto (that is, Port wine made in the demarcated region of the Douro Valley in Portugal). There are loads of wines called "Port" (but never "Porto") made in places like the US, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere that can be quite tasty -- but they aren't Porto! ;^)

                1. re: Recyclor

                  Cockburn's 20 year tawny is my fav but it doesnt taste like other tawnies so I wouldnt try it because it will mess with your head .. and zin1953's standard outline.

                  1. re: tom porc

                    I do love the Cockburn's 20. It's possibly the lightest of the 20 year Tawnies, and comes across as a bit more "spirity," than most of the others. I love to include it, as a counter-point to several other 20 year Tawnies, at tastings, just because of its difference.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Bill, Do you know what causes the difference?

                      1. re: tom porc

                        I'd attribute it to the "house style." Exactly what they do differently, I cannot say. It might be the addition of the grape brandy into the fermenting must a bit later, allowing base wine to go a bit more to the dry side, and it's alcohol level to rise slightly. I've not toured the house at Cockburn's, so I do not have the recipe, sorry.


                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Thanks for replying. Intrigued I looked at Cockburn's website. I didnt know that 80 different varieties can be used to make port. Cockburn's list the 5 they use. Also, you are correct about their "style."
                          Quote from website -- "When the sugar level falls roughly by half, grape spirit is added to kill the yeast and stop fermentation. The exact moment to stop the fermentation is one of the most critical aspects of port making. The fortification "window" is open for just a few hours. Cockburn’s ferments its must slightly longer than other port houses, using up more sugar and creating a less sweet style which is characteristic of all its ports. This style finishes with less sweetness, allowing more fruit flavor on the palate. The tannins also show through a little more, giving Cockburn’s ports their characteristic "grip." "
                          Well done, Hunt.

                          1. re: tom porc

                            What do they say, "sometimes, even a blind squirrel find an acorn... ?" It was just a guess, based on what I have observed from the product, especially with regards to others with the same basic specs.

                            To me, one of the great "fun projects" is to contrast different "house-styles" of, an otherwise similar Port, just to see how each one does it. I love to match the Porto Barros 20 year, with the Taylor 20 year. Similar styles and relatively close to each other, but different 20 year Ports.


                2. re: zin1953

                  Note that "vintage character" may no longer be used on the label. This style of port is now reserve port and many houses just use a brand name.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    "Vintage Character" rarely ever appeared on the label, but it is a recognized style.