Time to stop treating Tawny Port only like some kind of precious dessert wine! I know it sounds like heresy, but Port is good cold. When I met with the folks from Symington Family Estates at the Vin Portugal tasting a while ago, they told me that in Portugal, cooled aged Tawny Ports are consumed with snacks on a hot day during cocktail time.
My first reaction was that it seemed like a waste of good Port, but now I'm convinced. Sometimes cocktail hour demands something that doesn't pack the alcohol wallop of a tall G&T and Graham's 20 year old Tawny Porto is just the trick. It's even good with a nice chunk of salty aged Wisconsin cheddar, akin to cheese and a little dried fruit or guava paste accompaniment. After sampling the exciting Tawny Ports they sent me below, I looked for one that acid and bright fruits for the experiment. The Graham's 20 fit the bill: it tastes very fresh and bright with flavors of dates, fruitcake (my Grandmother's delicious one!), and crème brulée. With its lime-peel citrus nose, it seemed to be the right choice to chill down and try on a hot day, and I was pleasantly pleased. Give it a try.
Tawny Port Current Release Roundup
1994 Smith-Woodhouse Colheita (vintage aged tawny, pronounced "Co-LATE-uh") Lots of vanilla caramel on the nose. This is full of character, very youthful with great acidity. Keep this for the long run. I'm a huge fan of vintage Tawny and I've had Colheita Ports from the 1940s and 1950s, and some vintages taste young and bright even after extensive aging. This and lots of other Colheita Ports can be found at the Spanish Table in Berkeley. In fact, the selection at the Spanish Table is so good you can often find affordable Colheitas from the 60s and 70s.
A rare treat --a vertical of aged Tawny Porto from Dow's. I opened all these at once and really lived with these wines for a week or so, getting my friends to try each one, and seeing what they liked. Tawnies can live for a couple weeks with a quick spray of argon gas wine preservative, and for several weeks in the 'fridge. The older wines, like the 30 and 40 year are special treats, and quite pricey, so I would let them get back to at least cellar temperature before enjoying them if you've put them in the refrigerator.
Dow 10-year Tawny: Lots of fruit, sweet and raisiny. There is a nice tartness to offset the stickiness, but this affordable Tawny is for those who prefer it more forwardly sweet. A nice touch of banana on the finish.
Dow 20-year Tawny: What hit me straight off was the aroma of egg-washed warm brioches and apple charlotte. The addition of the older wines makes this start to hint at the richness of a good vintage port. Very round and full. Less of the stickiness of the 10 year.
Dow 30-year Tawny: This one took an hour or so to open up and expose its beauty. Still has plenty of fruitcake/dried fruits but it is layered with freshness and a beautiful acidic backbone. All in all, especially considering the price, this is the wine I keep coming back to. I just love it. Recommended.
Dow 40-year Tawny: Clearly this is the pinnacle of the Port blender's art. The 40-year is very spicy with a fabulous butterscotch color. Very aromatic right away and most surprisingly, this is the biggest in terms of aromas and flavors, yet the body is still quite light. I suspect that more of a particularly great year is kept back to blend into the 40 year. At nearly $170 this one is for a splurge and I would suggest that even though they do keep well, open this at a good sized party of 8 or more so you and your friends can savor this one when it's in its pristine shape. Highly recommended.