When it comes to fortified wines, vintage and tawny ports are the two most universally recognized styles. But there are vast differences between them. Vintage ports are dense purple-black in color, thick with flavors of plum and heavy tannins, and are made from grapes harvested in a single year. Tawny ports are more translucent in color, with a reddish-amber hue—hence the name—and have a candied spiciness along with characteristic cinnamon and almond flavors. Moreover, tawnies are blended from ports of various years, with the average age listed on the label. Most commonly encountered are 10- and 20-year-old tawnies, with a few houses like Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Symington offering scarcer (and costlier) 30-year-old and even rarer 40-year-old tawnies.
Each decade produces deeper complexities and colors that gradually change from reddish hues to amber-browns due to lengthier oak-barrel aging. And unlike old vintage ports, which are best consumed with 24 hours of opening, tawnies don’t require decanting and will keep for three weeks or longer if refrigerated. They are best served at room temperature or slightly chilled. The following are examples of some of the best tawnies available today.