Styles of port: Tawny

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The word tawny is applied to a confusingly wide range of very different styles of port. In theory, tawny implies a wine which has been aged in wood for so much longer than a ruby that it loses colour and the wine takes on an amber-brown or tawny hue (see ageing). In practice, however, much of the tawny port sold today is no older than the average ruby and may therefore be found at the same price. The difference between a commercial ruby and its counterpart labelled ‘tawny’ is that, whereas ruby is made from a blend of big, deep-coloured wines, tawny is often produced from lighter wines grown in the cooler Baixo Corgo vineyards where grapes rarely ripen to give much depth or intensity of fruit. Vinification methods may also be adapted to produce paler coloured wines, and the colour of the final blend may be adjusted further by adding a proportion of white port so that the wine ends up with a pale pink hue rather than tawny brown. Many bulk tawnies are left upriver for longer than other wines for the heat to speed up the maturation (see douro bake). The resulting wines often display a slight brown tinge on the rim but tend to lack the freshness and primary fruit character normally associated with young port. The French typically drink inexpensive, light, tawny-style wines as an aperitif and supplying this market has become the major commercial activity for many of the larger port shippers.