Porto Ho – Part 3: Tawny and Colheita

The next group of port styles that I’m going to talk about is the oxidised pair of Tawny and Colheita. These again start from the same root as the other ports (as described in my first porty post) and then both continue from there in pretty much the same way.

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Once the wine has been fortified and rested it is filled into oak casks which have already been used to mature regular table wines. As it sits in the porous casks the wine pulls flavours from the wood as well as oxidising and reducing in volume due to evaporation, giving quite different flavours to the ruby/vintage process. As the wine ages it also loses its red colour, becoming browner, and the flavour adds wood and ‘nuttiness’, losing some of the rich red fruit sweetness that you get in unoxidised ports. It was described to us on the Ferreira tour as being a much more Portugese style of wine, different to the traditionally up front sweetness of the ruby ports that suited the British palate and drove the early days of the port trade. One of the differences between barrel aging port and spirits is that the barrels are routinely cleaned – the barrels are dumped into vats (blending the individual casks together, removing the concept of single cask ports) and they are spray washed to remove the sediment that drops out of the wine as it sits. The sediment removal can become quite important as while the wine doesn’t have to sit in the barrel for too long it can be aged for upwards of 60 years.

It’s around the combining of the wines and calculation of age that tawnies and colheitas diverge – tawny is a blend of ports from various vintages, but colheita is a single vintage aged in wood. Tawnies have their ages listed in increments of 10 years, with the official categories being no age (I’m not sure how long this has to mature), reserve (at least 7 years), 10, 20, 30 and 40+ years. The numbered ages are referred to as ‘Tawny With An Indication Of Age’ (TWAIOA) and the figure isn’t exact, representing the ‘character’ of the wines wines blended together to create the bottling, generally a bit lower than the average age, leading to some very old wines being labeled as 40+. This may be accurate, but can be slightly misleading as very old wines blended together exclusively from tawnies over 40 years old still can’t be specifically labeled as older than 40+.

Colheitas are made up of ports of a single vintage aged for at least 7 years, making them the tawny port equivalent to ruby’s vintage. So while the individual casks will be blended together (at the end of maturation as well as during the yearly cleaning cycle) all the port comes from the same year, although as far as I can tell these are not necessarily declared vintage years. As with vintages single quinta wines do appear, with all the grapes going to make the base wine coming from a single vineyard.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Vinologia we got to try and bunch of tawnies and colheitas, as the big port lodges generally give out a taste of ruby and white ports on their tours and avoid tawnies a bit and don’t seem to talk much at all about colheitas. I tried a few tawnies and colheitas myself, but as they were much more to the taste of our group than the unoxidised wines we did rather well in getting through Vinologia’s range – as we went to leave for the last time before returning to the UK we were stopped by the owners because they’d found a bottle of colheita that wasn’t on the menu and which they thought might be the only one we hadn’t tried…

The first tawny I tried on the trip was Casal dos Jordões 10 Años. Casal dos Jordões has been around since 1870, are based around São João da Pesqueira at the east end of the Cima Corgo and have managed to grab the rather useful domain name of WineDouro.com. Not knowing entirely what to expect from tawny port I was rather pleased with this as an opener. The nose was rich with fresh ripe cherries and a hint of cloth sticking plasters. To taste it was big and sweet up front with lots of cherry – cherry lips, cherry menthol sweets and cherry jam. There was a nice hit of booze as well as green herbs, a hint of spicy chocolate (Green and Blacks Maya Gold?) and a PX-like thick raisin aftertaste. A good start.

Tawny flight

Other than random glasses I tried a flight of old tawny ports, again matching up with my table buddy to get in a wider range of ports. First in my flight was the Quinta Santa Eufémia Tawny Finest Reserve, a single quinta made from wines averaging about 7 years. They have a website and are based on the south bank of the Douro near to Pasa de Régua. On the nose it was very young smelling, with only light fruit and a slug of alcohol. To taste thought it was very fresh and fruity – quite a difference from the heavier tawnies that made up most of the selection. The flavour was balanced between sweet and sour, cutting the red jam flavours with a hint of sour fruit skin. There wasn’t a lot to it, but it was easy drinking and a good match for a warm day.

Next was a São Pedro das Águias 20 year old Tawny. I mentioned their 2000 vintage in my last post and after some more looking still can’t find anything about them. This was a very transparent reddy brown in colour, definitely losing the deep red of the rubies, and had a nose with hints of wood, dry dried fruit, raisins and hints of almonds. There was the ‘jamminess’ that I’ve been finding in ports, but this time much more towards a sour fruit jam, without as much sweetness. To taste it started sweet and moved quickly onto a big spicy middle with cinnamon and allspice. The body had raisins, thick PX and a hint of bread, reminding me of Eccles cakes. These flavours faded quickly into a lightly woody finish with little alcoholic burn, making it worryingly drinkable.

The last of my flight was Quinta da Revolta 40+, which according to our hosts had spent the best part of 60 years in wood. The quinta was founded in 17th or 18th century and is at the east end of Porto itself, on the north bank of the river in Campanhã. This was the oldest tawny that Vinologia had and it had lost most of its ruby colour, sitting a deep brown with just hint of red when held to the light. On the nose it had big rich PX-like fruit (molasses and raisins) with a light menthol and general medicinal note, but still quite fresh. To taste it was thick and heavy with raises and sour red grapes almost swamped by honey and caramel. There were occasional flashes of tannic wood and the finish was long and orangey – ‘Like a sliced orange flambéd with brandy’ say my notes.

The first of my neighbour’s I tried was the Quinta das Lamelas Tawny Reserve. This was the youngest tawny I tried, produced by the quinta I tried most wines from, and it was recommended to us due to being very different to most on the Vinologia menu. That difference was noticeable immediately from the nose – oranges. Bitter Seville orange, sweet orange peel, Grand Marnier and an almost fake orange candy smell, all quite light and fresh, combined to smell entirely different to all the other ports we’d tried. To taste it was again citrusy, although not as much as the nose suggested, with sweet orange balanced out with bitter, and there was a light raisiny sweetness hiding underneath to remind you that it was port. A strange one.

Next I borrowed a taste of a San Leonardo 30 year old Tawny. I say ‘a’ but from the page I’ve found online about it this may well be a ‘the’. Bottled around 2006 and with a chunk of the wine being laid down to mature in 1972 this seems to be a single pipe (a tall and thin ~110 gallon barrel traditionally used for port aging) with (I assume) some extra wines blended in, preventing it from being called a colheita. São Leonardo is a ridge north of the Douro river near the town of Galafura, and I assume that the wine is named for the area. On the nose my notes say “PORT”, with the capitals being important – this is what port smells like in my brain. There was a medium red wine base with red berry sweetness, a thick jammy centre, and a light lick of alcohol. To taste it was really sticky and jammy, with savoury wood balancing that out. The finish was lightly sour underneath, but with rich fruit and caramel lingering around as well.

Amongst the various other tawnies I tried from other people the one that stood out to me was the Noval 40 Años. Quinta do Noval is in the central port producing region of the Douro valley, the Cima Corgo, and has been operating in its current form since 1894, when it was bought by Antonio José de Silvá shortly after phyloxera had ravaged much of the Douro causing many vineyards to be sold. They now mature their wines at the quinta, formerly keeping them in Porto until a few years after the laws governing the designation of origin for port changed in 1986 (which from the 1986 document and some other pages I’ve found suggest that port had to be shipped through Porto). The wine itself was interesting – the nose was both sweet and earthy, with cherry Tangfastics, Luxardo cherries, woody menthol, cedar and almonds. The taste was rich and fruity, with sticky glacé cherries and sour red fruit leading to lingering green wood and cherry strepsils.

Quinta da Romaneira 40The other old tawny that I tried was Quinta da Romaneira 40 year old. Romaneira is based near Pinhão and was recently purchased by an investment group headed up by the managing director of Noval. Along with the vineyard they seem to, from the rather contentless but pretty website that searching for the quinta name directs you to, have a luxury hotel overlooking the Douro. On the nose this one had marzipan, a hint of salt and sponge cake batter with fivespice and mixed peel (my favourite cake from childhood in its uncooked form – this port invoked memories of licking the cake mix bowl in an excellent burst of sense-memory). To taste it was big and christmas cake-like, with dried fruit and nuts, sweet marmelade and apricot jam.

I also tried a few colheitas during the trip, starting with Romariz 1979. Originally well known for their wood-aged ports, Romariz are now part of the Taylor’s/Fonsecca family, have expanded their range a bit and draw their base wines from the Cima Corgo. This wine had a strangely savoury nose, a cross between sweet jam and worcester sauce. This didn’t continue much into the taste, with menthol joining rich fruit as well as woody spice, tobacco and a sharp wood bitterness.

Valriz 1958 ColheitaThe only other colheita that I have notes on (other than a couple with ‘pressed raisins. nice’ beside them) is the last port I drank – the bottle that the folks of Vinologia found hidden on a shelf that they’d forgotten about, Valriz 1958. I tried Valriz’s 1982 LBV in my last post and this wasn’t much older in terms of active aging, bottled in 1984 for a total of 26 years in wood. It had lost almost all of its red hue and sat in the glass a rich amber brown. On the nose it was musty with cheese rind, salted almonds and the ever present raisins. To taste there was stewed fruit, more cheese rind, a hint of wood smoke, orange peel, red boiled sweets and toffee apple caramel. The finish was quite long, with the almonds of the nose appearing as lightly sweet marzipan.

The oxidised wines were most favoured amongst my group and the wood aging does rub off the sweeter edges that you find in rubies, LBVs and vintages that appealed to the British palate in the past to give something a bit more appealing to a more savoury modern taste. Being a fan of wood aged spirits I came into learning about tawnies and colheitas very much wanting to like them, and found their variation from the red sweetness of the unoxidised wines appealing, but despite that I find that my sweet tooth is very much kicked by ports and I prefer the less oxidised styles. That is, until we come on to white ports…

Thanks to the folks at the For The Love of Port forum for the fact checking and flattery

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