Port, fortified wine made in the Douro region of northern Portugal, was first classified in 1757, nearly 100 years before the 1855 classification of Bordeaux. This makes Douro the oldest legally defined wine region (L’appellation d’origine contrôlée, or AOC) in the world.
Port has around 20% alcohol and is rich and full of flavour. It’s sweet but not cloying owing to its high acidity.
There are a few categories of port. These include sought-after vintage port, which is only made in the best years, on average three times in 10 years. The widest category, however, belongs to tawny port, which comes with an age indication. The wine is aged in around 630L small oak barrels for decades, developing attractive oxidative characteristics such as dried fruits, nuts and caramel. There are four styles of port in this category: 10 Year Old (YO), 20YO, 30YO and 40YO.
These tawny ports are not from single years but are blends of different years and express the characteristics of the age indicated on the labels. For example, a 10 YO tawny may be a blend of port from 5–20 years old but have the characteristics of a 10YO wine. This 10YO tawny port will have fruitier notes than a 40YO tawny port that displays more aged characteristics and includes some wine much older than 40 years old. Tawny ports that are 30–40YO are not as common as 10–20YO because of the rarity of aged wine stock.
The quality of most wines is related to terroir or the winemaker’s skill. For tawny port, it’s all about the art of blending, just like whisky.
In July 2021, the Douro and Port Wine Institute (IVDP) announced a new creation – 50-year-old tawny port.
I had the opportunity to taste Taylor’s Golden Age 50YO Tawny alongside its 10YO, 20YO, 30YO and 40YO tawnies under the guidance of David Guimaraens, senior winemaker at Taylor’s. Taylor’s is one of the world’s most historic port houses, established in 1692.
Tasting these wines is like travelling back in time. The 10YO has both fresh and dried fruits aromas and just a hint of nuts, while the 20YO is dominated by dried nuts and prunes and has an attractive tawny colour (hence the name of this category). The 30YO has an added level of complexity yet is more delicate. The 40YO is concentrated and rich with a smooth finish.
The 50YO is another level up with an opulent nose of sweet spices and dried fruits, yet an elegant palate with freshness and depth. Guimaraens said that the 50th year is a significant milestone worth celebrating and that Taylor’s Golden Age 50YO Tawny is a celebration wine. As far as he is aware, there are fewer than 10 port houses that have enough aged wine stock to blend a 50YO tawny every year.
While we were oohing and aahing over the wine, David surprised us with a Very Very Old Tawny Port (VVOP). At over 80 years of age, it’s incredibly complex and concentrated, with some components dating back before World War II. Only 2,500 bottles were released earlier this year. If the 50YO tawny is about celebration, this VVOP is about sharing intimate moments with close friends and loved ones.
Port is one of the very few wines that can age gracefully for decades, developing complex aromas, but still retain its freshness. The different styles of tawny port, from 10YO, to 50YO, to VVVOP, allow us to enjoy it at every occasion, from a casual gathering of friends to a celebratory event. What’s even better is that tawny port can be kept for 6–8 weeks after a bottle is opened, so you don’t need to finish it all in one go – stock one or two bottles for a special occasion!
Taylor’s is available in Hong Kong from Jebsen Wines & Spirits.
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