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Blue sky drinking: tawny port

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson explores the sprightly, food-friendly qualities of a young tawny port

After regaling him with (what I thought were witty) tales of my travels through port country a few years ago, a wine trade colleague teased me that not a single week of the year passed without a UK wine writer being in the Douro Valley.

He’s probably right, and with good reason. The home of port production is one of the wine world’s most beautiful locations. Notwithstanding the mesmerising sun-soaked patchwork quilt of vineyards that hug the winding Douro, all variances of port (many more than you realise) are at your fingertips and so too are the local delicacies such as bacalhau and pastéis de nata. It really is one of those try-before-you-die kind of places.

The pastel de nata, with its unctuous custard filling, brings to mind a style of port that is a supreme partner with any dessert that involves custard or caramelised fruit, or even better both, and that’s a tawny.

Of all the ports, tawny is arguably the most food-friendly. Taking its name from the tawny hue (which is very different to the bold purple of a young vintage port), it gets this colour because it is aged for longer in barrels than vintage port. But wait, wouldn’t vintage port, being at the pinnacle of production, stay in barrels the longest, I hear you ask? Well, no. Spending longer in barrels means tawnies can be drunk at an earlier stage than their vintage cousins, as the gentle oxidation through the minute pores in the wood smooths out the port’s fortified flavour more quickly. Vintage port, on the other hand, ages for longer and more slowly in the bottle.

Speaking of vintages, tawny comes without an age or with an average age of different vintages blended together. When aged, it comes as a 10, 20, 30 or 40-year-old. As with any wine, the younger the tawny the more sprightly it is in character, so for this recipe I would suggest a younger tawny to match the tangy citrus fruit.

The beauty of tawny is that it can match that fresh bite of citrus, especially younger ones because they taste better slightly chilled. Even so, they also have this easy-going suppleness too, which is why they melt in the mouth with the mellowness of custard and caramel.

To be honest, the flavour of port is so evocative, you almost don’t need to visit the Douro Valley to get a taste of what it’s really like… But then again, who am I kidding?

Quevedo 10-Year-Old Tawny, Porto, Portugal
£21, Borough Wines

Made with a classic ‘field blend’ of native grape varieties, led by the most famous touriga nacional, this is an effortlessly fruity tawny with bold spice and fruitcake flavours and a dash of orange rind perkiness that matches the caramelised fruit, while its crisp freshness loves the herbal tang of the cardamom while also cutting through the creaminess of custard.