Roger Jones takes a fascinating tour through Porto’s latest styles of tawny and colheita Ports and sees how they are offering a more competitive and palatable offer for UK consumers than vintage Ports. But he can’t leave his chef hat at home and also enjoys local Douro wines at Porto’s finest restaurants.
With their more nutty, textured and caramelised notes it is easy to see how tawny and colheita Ports and becoming the real stars of the Port scene, says Roger Jones.
The Port market is similar to other markets in the wine industry in that recent trends encourage a lighter style. This movement from vintage Port to tawny Port is consistent to similarities with other grape types such as Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which are becoming cleaner, lighter more focused.
But I think that there are other reasons why vintage Port no longer holds the market that it once had in the UK.
Britain has been the bastion of vintage Port sales, whilst Portugal and other countries have consistently preferred the oak aged tawny style. Many traditional Portuguese winemakers feels that a wine that is aged and completes its education in a barrel is a far better wine to a vintage Port that is merely aged for a short period prior to a lifetime in a bottle.
The Douro is moving more and more into wine production, and excels in some beautiful full-bodied red wines, which may also be fighting against vintage Port.
We have seen ‘tawny style’ wines being produced with great gusto in the New World, especially in Australia, and this no doubt has also helped sell the vision and style of traditional tawny Port to the UK. To consumers who would never touch vintage Port (due to its stiff upper lip image) a caramelised light nutty chilled shot of ‘tawny” is a different conception.
Sales of tawny Port are growing in the off-trade much faster than the on-trade, and it is time that more of the on-trade took on this mantle, a bit like English sparkling, where the UK consumer is much more knowledgeable than some give credit, and again there is a healthy growing off sales market for English sparkling wines.
Tawny has the edge
One of the key ‘words’ used on my visit to Oporto last week were ‘ruby’ and ‘tawny’ with ‘ruby’ meaning red and referring to LBV and vintage Port and tawny to the lighter oak aged ports. In most cellars they were keen to show the rows and rows of tawny Port in barrels with a flippant nod to the vats holding the ‘ruby’ wine to be made into either vintage (when the governing body declares a vintage year) or into LBV.
It was clear to me that the winemakers that I met clearly looked upon aged tawny Ports as far superior, with words such as less sweet, more elegance, balanced acidity, complexion all coming up.
So what is all the fuss about and what is the difference between tawny (Reserve, 10, 20, 30, 40 year old) and Colheita. And white tawny Port! What’s that all about?
The same grapes go into both ruby and tawny Port (besides white tawny where traditional white grapes are used). Tawny Port is aged mostly in small barrels to increase more contact with wood, allow oxidisation and are topped up as the ‘Angels’ take their share over the years.
Reserve, 10, 20, 30 & 40 year old Tawny
Reserve tawny is normally about 7 years in age, with the aged tawny the stated year refers to the youngest vintage in the blend, but can have older vintages in the mix. The more commonly seen 10-year-old tawny offers a vast range of quality and it is difficult to quantify the standard, but once you get to a 20 year old you will get a quality that encourages you to delve further into these wines. There are primary flavours of freshness, precision, purity of fruit but then a lovely background of nutty/savoury encompassing from the time in oak.
Moving to 30 and 40 year old these start to fetch serious prices and are as specialised as Scotch single malt in that each house will have its own intimate style.
These are single vintage tawny Port, which are aged in barrel until they are bottled, with a minimum age of 7 years, however it is worth noting that there are multiple bottling’s from each vintage, so the front label will denote the vintage year whilst on the back it will state the year the port was bottled. Thus a 1985 tawny bottled in 2005 will be completely different to one bottled in 2015.
Both aged tawny and vintage colheita tawny come with stoppers not corks, once in bottle there will be little change in their development. As they have also gone through a lengthy oxidisation period once opened they will last for over a week comfortably if not longer. They should be served at around 10 degrees.
A rare style although Kopke produce some including a 10 year old and colheita. It even has some 1935 in barrels. Made from traditional white grapes from the Douro Valley (Arinto, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia Fina ) these offer an exceptional style and are worth seeking out and are just amazing with Oriental food.
A few tasting highlights
Kopke 10-year-old White
Touch of ginger on the lips, clementine peel, green pistachio, honeyed, luscious flavours bouncing around the palate, this would be perfect with some fatty tuna sashimi.
Kopke Reserve Dry White Port (25/30 year old)
Coconut, ginger, sun kissed, exotic flavours, a wonderful deep intense exciting wine. A bargain and certainly one of the most exciting wines that I have tried for a while.
Kopke 30 year Old White
Bright fresh vibrant citrus peel, pink grapefruit, nutmeg, juicy white pear William, a fabulous elegant port.
Graham’s 20-year-old Tawny
Crème Brulee, luscious toffee, honeyed, with a good balance of dried savoury fruit and nuts on the background
Dow’s 30-year-old Tawny
Dry spiced, juicy sultanas, hints of tobacco and aged leather, purity and brightness
Graham’s 40-year-old Tawny
Great purity to this port with hints of delicate espresso soufflé, luxurious chocolate, rich pure fruit with a dry moreish finish.
Kopke 40 year old Tawny
Textured, earthy, Quince, nutty, textured, very rich precise dried juicy fruit, golden sultanas.
Barros Colheita 1978 (bottled 2005)
Sweet scented, voluptuous lingering flavours from a bag full of nuts and dried fruit, with a precise finish
Kopke Colheita 1966 (bottled 2015)
Molasses, dried plump fruit, candid Seville Oranges, refined, elegance, vanilla spices, explosions of juicy Christmas fruit on the palate balanced by the dry nutty finish.
A sidetrack – Gaveto Restaurant
We had some wonderful meals whilst we were in Porto and the Douro, not least at the Michelin Star restaurant Los Pacos, based in our hotel; Casa da Calcada in Amarante, however the star of the trip (and we needed to go back for a second visit) was Gaveto in Oporto.
Well known already to many journalists that visit Porto, this not only provided excellent ‘Portuguese’ seafood and especially shellfish, but a wine list that was an education in Portuguese wine, and a mark up that nearly made me embarrassed of our restaurant prices.
Wines that were introduced to us by our jovial host; Joao Silva at Gaveto included;
Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho 2013 (Parcela Unica)
Oak aged and a beautiful silky lingering textured wine matched with Goose Barnacles and oysters. This brings Alvarinho to a different level.
Nossa Calcario Bical 2014
An orange style wine made by Luis Pato’s daughter Filipa, all bright and exciting, refreshing good with some steamed clams. The wine was beautiful fresh and tingling with delicacy ‘a wine with no make up’ as she calls it.
Bucaco Branco Reservado 2001
Sourced from the famous Bussaco Palace Hotel’s own vineyards, rarely are these wines seen outside the Palace. They age gracefully and this white was still a youth, hints of pineapple, white peaches and some white truffles starting to develop, a wonderful match to some traditional Portuguese salt cod. Expressive wonderful wine.
One of the Douro’s Super Reds, but sold here at the bargain price of $79, the luscious smooth textured silky fruit driven wine a perfect match to a local creamy Portuguese cheese. A working project between the Symington and Pratt family from France showing how good the red wines from the Douro are.
RESTAURANTE O GAVETO
Rua Roberto Ivens, 826
4450-249 Matosinhos – Portugal
Phone: (+351) 229 378 796
Fax: (+351) 229 383 812
- And a special thanks to our South African Portuguese speaking female driver, who made us feel as if we were being driven around Stellenbosch wine region not The Douro!