So much whisky, so little time | Singapore | Tasting Notes

Cockburn’s 20 yo Tawny Port

Another port, but a Tawny Port this time. For Port basics go here.

This is Part II – Tawny Port

Tawny Port is aged the same way as Whisky – in a cask, for long periods of time. The same 3 kinds of reactions occur, and the stuff that comes out is a glistening translucent light brown – amber liquid that has lost the opacity of a ruby port but gained the complex maturity that time bestows.

By the time it is bottled, it is ready to drunk, unlike Vintage Port, and will not improve further. And if you head to a well-stocked supermarket Port shelf, you are likely to see something like this: Fine Tawny Port, Tawny Reserve, 20 year old Tawny Port or for the well-heeled, 40 year old Tawny Port. What the difference?

Tawny Port factsheet:

  • A blend. First and foremost, Tawny Port is a blended port, unlike a vintage port or LBV, which must specify the vintage year, Tawny Port can be a blend of various vintages. Tawny Port therefore also carries the house style of the various houses, or shippers as they are called. And they are always careful to maintain consistency. Sounds like whisky? The first part at least. To do this the shippers have huge stores of the blend in reserve, from which a small portion is drawn out every year.
  • Aged in wood. Exactly how this is done differs among the shippers but huge old oak vats called Balseiros, or Toneis, if they are casks laid horizontally, and then on to Port pipes. The use of old oak here is essential to allow slow oxidative aging without excessive oak influence.
  • Tawny Port categories. Tawny Ports are generally divided into those with age statements and those without. Those without occupy a wide pricing range indicative of the quality and age of the Port within. Those with age statements could be labelled as 10, 20, 30 or 40 year old, and are priced accordingly. At this juncture, it is important to note that unlike whisky, these age statements do not represent the age of the youngest liquid in these ports, but rather an average age of the Ports within.
  • House style. Consistency is the name of the game here, and each age category of Tawny Port is also meant to carry a certain style for the shipper as well. As such, the art of the master blender is of utmost importance.
  • Other Tawnies. There are other rare categories of Tawnies like Garrafeira – a Port that started off as a Tawny, but was then transferred to large glass demijons for extensive bottle aging, Colheita – a single vintage dated harvest turned into Tawny Port, but these are rather rare!

Graham’s Balseiros here

A Graham’s Toneis being repaired



Cockburn’s 20 year old Tawny Port


Nose  Nose: Sweet and honey drizzled dried apricots. Dense and seductive sweetness and complex aromatics. Wood is present – bottle says cedar but I’ll go with scented cedar. Coffee and a newly opened bag of prunes. Very desert like and voluptuous. But not without a bit of grip as well.

Taste  Palette: Rich and honeyed, silky smooth but with a powerful sweetness from golden raisins, golden syrup, candied fruit, but an acidity present under all that like lime zest syrup if that makes sense. Hits of licorice allsorts, now turning to distinct oxidised notes of madeira and toast.

Taste Finish: Sweet and madeirized – and that is not a bad thing.



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This entry was posted on April 24, 2014 by in Port and tagged , .
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