There may be no better way to end the Thanksgiving feast or ward off an evening's chill than with a glass of tawny port. As refined as Cognac or single malt Scotch but with half the alcohol content, tawny port is full of delicious flavors like caramel and peanut brittle, apricot, plum, raisin and walnut--all knit harmoniously together.
Port Defined All ports are made from a blend of grapes grown throughout Portugal's Douro valley. There are two kinds of port: tawny and ruby. Tawny is aged in wooden casks and released ready to drink, while ruby ages more in bottle than in wood and generally requires many years of cellaring. (There are also simple rubies that undergo very little aging.) The most famous ruby is vintage port, a vintage-dated wine made only in the best years. Tawnies can sometimes offer a broader, subtler array of flavors than vintage ports, which are often fruity and powerful. Both are connoisseurs' wines.
Tawnies & Age Top tawny ports are released in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old versions (the age refers to the time spent in wood). Tawny lovers often prefer the 20-year-old, believing it strikes the right balance between aged character and vitality. Most great tawnies are priced in the same range as all but the most expensive vintage ports ($25 to $150 and up).
10 Great Buys
Ramos-Pinto 10-Year-Old ($34) This stellar tawny-port producer is owned by Champagne house Louis Roederer. Although very young, this wine shows off Ramos-Pinto's trademark elegance.
Graham 10-Year-Old ($28) Founded by Scottish textile merchants in the early nineteenth century, this port house (now owned by Symington) makes a plush and relatively dry 10-year-old wine.
Fonseca 10-Year-Old ($29) This port house, owned by Taylor Fladgate, produces rich, full-bodied wines. This seductive, creamy bottling is no exception.
Churchill 10-Year-Old ($29) With its winning combination of youthful fruit and mellow softness, this luscious wine is on the sweeter end of the taste spectrum. It's made by a husband-and-wife team, who founded their port house in 1981.
Ramos-Pinto 20-Year-Old ($59) This silky, vibrant port is made in a medium-rich style. The longer you sit with it, the more the flavors and aromas deepen.
Niepoort 20-Year-Old ($58) A dazzling wine from a fifth-generation, family-owned port house. It has layer upon layer of flavors, including cocoa and caramel, and aromas such as sandalwood.
Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old ($50) This company, founded in 1692, sets the standard for all Anglo-Portuguese houses. The Taylor style--youthful, muscular and concentrated--is all on display here.
Dow's 20-Year-Old ($46) Although Dow's is famous for its vintage ports, this is a very distinctive tawny--rich, concentrated and fairly dry. The finish is almost crisp, with a fine cut of acidity.
Fonseca 30-Year-Old ($110) The star of Fonseca's line of tawnies, this generous, brick-colored wine is broad-textured, creamy and sensationally layered with flavors like walnuts and milk chocolate.
Quinta Do Noval 40-Year-Old ($130) From one of the Douro's oldest producers comes a 40-year-old that's surprisingly lively, with a caramel-like mellowness.