We are embracing tawny port as one of the color foundations of our fall wardrobes. According to Pantone, tawny port confidently says “elegant, sophisticated and tasteful.”
While we always strive to look elegant and sophisticated, the description also sounds exactly like what we’re searching for in a glass of vino.
“Tawny port tastes like fall in a glass,” says Joshua Walker, owner of Wine & Company, an independent wine retailer on Meeting Street about a year ago.
Port is a red wine fortified with brandy, which prevents the grape sugars from converting to alcohol, which means the wine is sweeter and stronger because of the addition of the liquor.
The fermented wine is even connected to Charleston’s port history because brandy was added to wine after the fermentation process in the 1700s to help the wine withstand the long journey across the Atlantic, Joshua explains.
Ports feature dark fruit flavors such as plum, blackberry and cherry, says Justin Coleman, owner of Monarch Wine Merchants on King Street. Ruby ports use fresh grapes and taste ripe and fruity. Tawny port, on the other hand, is fermented in oak barrels, exposing it to more oxygen. That gives the wine an aged and nutty taste. Vintage ports are made from grapes from a single year.
Ports are designated based on how long they have aged in the wooden casks. “The 20-year tawny is a really good sweet spot,” Justin says.
Looking for a more accessible seasonal red? Justin recommends beaujolais made from gamay grapes. “It can be a fun, fruity, light style,” he says. “It does everything for me.”
Ways To Enjoy Port
Pair with cheese: The port’s sweetness complements salty and pungent cheeses — an aged, white cheddar or blue cheese such as Stilton.
Pair with dessert: Autumn pies like pecan and pumpkin; or dark-chocolate desserts
Cocktail: Swap the sweet vermouth in your Manhattan with port to add a seasonal sweetness this fall, Joshua suggests.
Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port, available at Monarch Wine Merchants
This wine is aged for four to six years in large old oak vats (as opposed to vintage ports, which are aged for two to three years). Late-bottled vintage ports fill the gap between ruby and vintage ports, as rubies should be drunk quite young, and a great vintage port may need 15 to 20 years to open up and show its splendour. This led to the creation of a port in the 1960s which would undergo four to six years of aging before being bottled, resulting in a wine of a vintage port style with its deep colour and concentration of fruit but with a more mature character.
Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha Port, available at Monarch Wine Merchants
Warre’s flagship property, which sets the style of its vintage ports, is Quinta da Cavadinha. It has excellent dark red colour and a beautifully aromatic Warre nose of ripe red fruits with floral hints. On the palate, it’s full bodied, with layers of fruit balanced by rich tannins and a long and lingering finish.
Taylor Fladgate Fine Tawny Port, available at Wine & Company
Established in 1692, Taylor stands as one of the few original port houses. This port is young and fruity. The limited amount of oak influence allows a warming, orange marmalade to envelope your palate before a creamy fresh-spun caramel brings a soft finish.
Presidential 20 Year Tawny Port, available at Wine & Company
The care and effort that goes into the Presidential 20 year Tawny Port is evident at first glance. This spicy, after dinner specialty is bottled in a classic ship decanter—designed with a handsome, wide base to survive treacherous voyages across the sea. This port offers the perfect balance of spice, texture, and subtle smokiness.
Fonseca 40 Year Tawny Port, available at Wine & Company
This brick-colored wine is densely concentrated. The result is a mélange of powerful, nutty flavors like clove, nutmeg and toffee followed by a rich, creamy finish. This wine is the crown jewel for tawny port lovers and delivers a rare complexity.
Jean-Louis Dutraive, Fleurie, available at Monarch Wine Merchants
This comes from the granitic soils found at one of the highest points in Fleurie. It’s made exactly like all of Jean-Louis’ wines: whole cluster, semi-carbonic with low SO2. It is a spectacular drink and should not be missed.
Damien Coquelet, Cotes du Py, Morgon, available at Monarch Wine Merchants
Damien Coquelet, under the guidance of this step-father Georges Descombes, is making some of the prettiest wines in the Beaujolais using organic farming, wild yeasts and minimal sulfur. This wine is from old vines formerly part of the Domaine Savoye-Descombes. Tasting notes include very pretty, deep cherry and strawberry fruit, fairly forward and with good length. This should drink beautifully over the next three or four years.