So many wines that we’ve been collectively sipping as a nation have built up stereotypes around them; sparkling wine is for celebrating, sherry is sweet, chardonnay is always oaky and port is for Christmas. Based on elements of truth (who doesn’t like to toast with Champagne, pour pedro ximénez over ice cream or enjoy a creamy white wine?) but on the whole misinformed, it has been the wine writer’s task these past few decades to try and smash these preconceived ideas down one by one. But some of them are pretty tenacious.
Port for the end of a long wintery meal is one of those ideas we can’t seem to shake. But we should – because actually we’re doing it wrong.
White port is gaining plenty of traction as a great sipper topped with tonic in the warmer months but its juicy cousin Tawny port is also a great option as we roll into milder weather and even, fingers crossed, some blissful sunshine.
"A gently chilled, well-aged tawny certainly refreshes the parts that no other wine (or beer) can reach”
Tawny port is a specific style of fortified wine which, like all port, is made in the Douro Valley. What separates this style from white or ruby port is how it is aged - specifically in casks rather than large tanks or bottles, leaving a wine that is lighter, silkier and elegant. When slightly chilled it is easily one of the most refreshing styles to sip on, even if you choose to have it at the end of your Christmas dinner rather than in mid-July.
“Coming at the very end of the evening, after a glass or three of vintage Port, a gently chilled, well-aged tawny certainly refreshes the parts that no other wine (or beer) can reach,” writes Richard Mayson for Decanter. And he’s right – in fact chilled tawny port at the end of a meal was the traditional way the wine was served, known as a glass of ‘mouthwash’. Today you’d be forgiven for thinking glasses of Listerine were being handed around but you get the point – chilled tawny can be light, clean and enlivening, a far cry from a fireside serve.
So if you’re in the mood this summer for aromas of figs and raisins and a palate of gentle cherry spice with the clean refreshing power of crisp wine, chuck that tawny in the fridge for an hour or two. While you’re waiting for the temperature to drop why not swing by a bakery and grab some traditional nata tarts or head for the cheese counter and pick whatever takes your fancy – did you know tawny ports work very well with all cheeses, as they aren’t too delicately flavoured and their taste profile is similar to the accompaniments you will serve with the cheese: nuts, dried fruit, the spices in chutney?
For a true taste of summer port sipping we’ve invited Graham’s port (listed first in Richard Mayson’s top 10 tawny ports) to the Wine Edit running from June 8th-10th in east London to show you all just how delightful a chilled tawny can be. See you there!