The Romance of Tawny Port

10 Nov

            One of the points of study in this week’s ISG Fundamentals of wine course was fortified wines, how they are made and their aroma and taste characteristics.  As a history buff, I find it so intriguing that many of the things I routinely enjoy today were originally created as solutions to historical challenges.  Fortified wines were created to increase, through the addition of additional alcohol, wine’s stability and longevity in a time when vinification and sterilization techniques were still evolving.  In past centuries, travel took time.  If wine was to be shipped, it needed to last.  Port and Sherry were the inspired answer to the limited preservation options of the time.

Mr. Pickwick's Tawny Port

          Tawny Port is a particular favorite of mine.  As newlyweds, Jay and I made a trip to the Barossa Valley in Australia.  We met an Aussie on the plane who told us about a port that we had to try: Mr. Pickwick’s NV Tawny Port.  We really didn’t know much about Port, but on our new friend’s recommendation, we visited the Saltram Wine Estate and had a lovely morning in the cellar with their winemaker.  He loved his product and seemed thrilled to share the ins and out of the process with us.  It’s funny the details of certain conversations that stick with you even twenty plus years later, but I still recall that in making Mr. Pickwick’s, he blended from a library of ports, some as old as 100 years.  Here is a tasting note  from Southern Cross Wines that beautifully reflects my impressions from 25 years ago:

Mr Pickwick’s Port is widely regarded as Australia’s definitive tawny port. Its average age of over 21 years makes it unique amongst fortified wines consistently available on a commercial basis. Mr Pickwick’s Port has the softness and mellow spirit that can only come from great age, premium base material and the very best in fortifying spirit – in this case, old brandy. The colour is pale amber brown, suggesting great age and complexity, while on the nose there are complex fruit and rancio qualities. The concentrated, mature nose has a freshness and lift belying an average of more than 25 years. On the palate the wine is intense and concentrated and quite luscious, with a great richness, texture and mouth filling flavour. Its excellent and mature spirit add to the depth and intrigue presented by such old, rare port. 19.0% alcohol volume.

             With the inescapable vestiges of modernity , I have an image of Port and Sherry as links to a slower, more noble world.  In my experience, these wines are sipped slowly, often by firelight, and urge us to both introspection and meaningful conversation.  There’s a romance to them, and in a world of reality TV and global economic meltdown, I find romance, in measured quantity, a premium commodity.

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