Of all the fortified wines—that is, those that have had their fermentation halted by the addition of alcohol (usually high-proof brandy)—tawny ports are the most ubiquitous. You will find them on restaurant menus and liquor store shelves more than any other style, yet their complexities are often misunderstood.
Premium tawnies are carefully blended composites of select ports from various years, most commonly with an average bottling age of 10 or 20 years, although a few houses such as Sandeman, the Fladgate Partnership (which includes labels such as Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca), and Symington (encompassing labels such as Dow’s and Graham’s) also offer rarer and more costly 30- and 40-year-old tawnies.
With each decade, the ruby-rose-brown color of these Portuguese blended wines drifts to slightly lighter hues due to lengthier barrel aging (hence their “tawny” designation), and their semi-sweet cinnamon and almond flavors become more intricate. Unlike vintage ports, tawnies do not need further aging; they are ready to drink when bottled. Nor do they require decanting, and once opened, can be kept for weeks or even months if refrigerated and a Vacu-Vin or similar device is used to keep out the air.
Tawnies are best enjoyed slightly chilled in a medium-size, tapered wine glass, such as Riedel’s Sommelier Tawny Port glass, to concentrate their aromas. So here then, for the maximum tawny port experience, are our top 10 tawnies for those moments that call for a refreshing aperitif, or an elegant accompaniment to the end of a meal.