Porto Ho – Part 3: Tawny and Colheita

The next group of port styles that I’m going to talk about is the oxidised pair of Tawny and Colheita. These again start from the same root as the other ports (as described in my first porty post) and then both continue from there in pretty much the same way.


Once the wine has been fortified and rested it is filled into oak casks which have already been used to mature regular table wines. As it sits in the porous casks the wine pulls flavours from the wood as well as oxidising and reducing in volume due to evaporation, giving quite different flavours to the ruby/vintage process. As the wine ages it also loses its red colour, becoming browner, and the flavour adds wood and ‘nuttiness’, losing some of the rich red fruit sweetness that you get in unoxidised ports. It was described to us on the Ferreira tour as being a much more Portugese style of wine, different to the traditionally up front sweetness of the ruby ports that suited the British palate and drove the early days of the port trade. One of the differences between barrel aging port and spirits is that the barrels are routinely cleaned – the barrels are dumped into vats (blending the individual casks together, removing the concept of single cask ports) and they are spray washed to remove the sediment that drops out of the wine as it sits. The sediment removal can become quite important as while the wine doesn’t have to sit in the barrel for too long it can be aged for upwards of 60 years.

It’s around the combining of the wines and calculation of age that tawnies and colheitas diverge – tawny is a blend of ports from various vintages, but colheita is a single vintage aged in wood. Tawnies have their ages listed in increments of 10 years, with the official categories being no age (I’m not sure how long this has to mature), reserve (at least 7 years), 10, 20, 30 and 40+ years. The numbered ages are referred to as ‘Tawny With An Indication Of Age’ (TWAIOA) and the figure isn’t exact, representing the ‘character’ of the wines wines blended together to create the bottling, generally a bit lower than the average age, leading to some very old wines being labeled as 40+. This may be accurate, but can be slightly misleading as very old wines blended together exclusively from tawnies over 40 years old still can’t be specifically labeled as older than 40+.

Colheitas are made up of ports of a single vintage aged for at least 7 years, making them the tawny port equivalent to ruby’s vintage. So while the individual casks will be blended together (at the end of maturation as well as during the yearly cleaning cycle) all the port comes from the same year, although as far as I can tell these are not necessarily declared vintage years. As with vintages single quinta wines do appear, with all the grapes going to make the base wine coming from a single vineyard.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Vinologia we got to try and bunch of tawnies and colheitas, as the big port lodges generally give out a taste of ruby and white ports on their tours and avoid tawnies a bit and don’t seem to talk much at all about colheitas. I tried a few tawnies and colheitas myself, but as they were much more to the taste of our group than the unoxidised wines we did rather well in getting through Vinologia’s range – as we went to leave for the last time before returning to the UK we were stopped by the owners because they’d found a bottle of colheita that wasn’t on the menu and which they thought might be the only one we hadn’t tried…

The first tawny I tried on the trip was Casal dos Jordões 10 Años. Casal dos Jordões has been around since 1870, are based around São João da Pesqueira at the east end of the Cima Corgo and have managed to grab the rather useful domain name of WineDouro.com. Not knowing entirely what to expect from tawny port I was rather pleased with this as an opener. The nose was rich with fresh ripe cherries and a hint of cloth sticking plasters. To taste it was big and sweet up front with lots of cherry – cherry lips, cherry menthol sweets and cherry jam. There was a nice hit of booze as well as green herbs, a hint of spicy chocolate (Green and Blacks Maya Gold?) and a PX-like thick raisin aftertaste. A good start.

Tawny flight

Other than random glasses I tried a flight of old tawny ports, again matching up with my table buddy to get in a wider range of ports. First in my flight was the Quinta Santa Eufémia Tawny Finest Reserve, a single quinta made from wines averaging about 7 years. They have a website and are based on the south bank of the Douro near to Pasa de Régua. On the nose it was very young smelling, with only light fruit and a slug of alcohol. To taste thought it was very fresh and fruity – quite a difference from the heavier tawnies that made up most of the selection. The flavour was balanced between sweet and sour, cutting the red jam flavours with a hint of sour fruit skin. There wasn’t a lot to it, but it was easy drinking and a good match for a warm day.

Next was a São Pedro das Águias 20 year old Tawny. I mentioned their 2000 vintage in my last post and after some more looking still can’t find anything about them. This was a very transparent reddy brown in colour, definitely losing the deep red of the rubies, and had a nose with hints of wood, dry dried fruit, raisins and hints of almonds. There was the ‘jamminess’ that I’ve been finding in ports, but this time much more towards a sour fruit jam, without as much sweetness. To taste it started sweet and moved quickly onto a big spicy middle with cinnamon and allspice. The body had raisins, thick PX and a hint of bread, reminding me of Eccles cakes. These flavours faded quickly into a lightly woody finish with little alcoholic burn, making it worryingly drinkable.

The last of my flight was Quinta da Revolta 40+, which according to our hosts had spent the best part of 60 years in wood. The quinta was founded in 17th or 18th century and is at the east end of Porto itself, on the north bank of the river in Campanhã. This was the oldest tawny that Vinologia had and it had lost most of its ruby colour, sitting a deep brown with just hint of red when held to the light. On the nose it had big rich PX-like fruit (molasses and raisins) with a light menthol and general medicinal note, but still quite fresh. To taste it was thick and heavy with raises and sour red grapes almost swamped by honey and caramel. There were occasional flashes of tannic wood and the finish was long and orangey – ‘Like a sliced orange flambéd with brandy’ say my notes.

The first of my neighbour’s I tried was the Quinta das Lamelas Tawny Reserve. This was the youngest tawny I tried, produced by the quinta I tried most wines from, and it was recommended to us due to being very different to most on the Vinologia menu. That difference was noticeable immediately from the nose – oranges. Bitter Seville orange, sweet orange peel, Grand Marnier and an almost fake orange candy smell, all quite light and fresh, combined to smell entirely different to all the other ports we’d tried. To taste it was again citrusy, although not as much as the nose suggested, with sweet orange balanced out with bitter, and there was a light raisiny sweetness hiding underneath to remind you that it was port. A strange one.

Next I borrowed a taste of a San Leonardo 30 year old Tawny. I say ‘a’ but from the page I’ve found online about it this may well be a ‘the’. Bottled around 2006 and with a chunk of the wine being laid down to mature in 1972 this seems to be a single pipe (a tall and thin ~110 gallon barrel traditionally used for port aging) with (I assume) some extra wines blended in, preventing it from being called a colheita. São Leonardo is a ridge north of the Douro river near the town of Galafura, and I assume that the wine is named for the area. On the nose my notes say “PORT”, with the capitals being important – this is what port smells like in my brain. There was a medium red wine base with red berry sweetness, a thick jammy centre, and a light lick of alcohol. To taste it was really sticky and jammy, with savoury wood balancing that out. The finish was lightly sour underneath, but with rich fruit and caramel lingering around as well.

Amongst the various other tawnies I tried from other people the one that stood out to me was the Noval 40 Años. Quinta do Noval is in the central port producing region of the Douro valley, the Cima Corgo, and has been operating in its current form since 1894, when it was bought by Antonio José de Silvá shortly after phyloxera had ravaged much of the Douro causing many vineyards to be sold. They now mature their wines at the quinta, formerly keeping them in Porto until a few years after the laws governing the designation of origin for port changed in 1986 (which from the 1986 document and some other pages I’ve found suggest that port had to be shipped through Porto). The wine itself was interesting – the nose was both sweet and earthy, with cherry Tangfastics, Luxardo cherries, woody menthol, cedar and almonds. The taste was rich and fruity, with sticky glacé cherries and sour red fruit leading to lingering green wood and cherry strepsils.

Quinta da Romaneira 40The other old tawny that I tried was Quinta da Romaneira 40 year old. Romaneira is based near Pinhão and was recently purchased by an investment group headed up by the managing director of Noval. Along with the vineyard they seem to, from the rather contentless but pretty website that searching for the quinta name directs you to, have a luxury hotel overlooking the Douro. On the nose this one had marzipan, a hint of salt and sponge cake batter with fivespice and mixed peel (my favourite cake from childhood in its uncooked form – this port invoked memories of licking the cake mix bowl in an excellent burst of sense-memory). To taste it was big and christmas cake-like, with dried fruit and nuts, sweet marmelade and apricot jam.

I also tried a few colheitas during the trip, starting with Romariz 1979. Originally well known for their wood-aged ports, Romariz are now part of the Taylor’s/Fonsecca family, have expanded their range a bit and draw their base wines from the Cima Corgo. This wine had a strangely savoury nose, a cross between sweet jam and worcester sauce. This didn’t continue much into the taste, with menthol joining rich fruit as well as woody spice, tobacco and a sharp wood bitterness.

Valriz 1958 ColheitaThe only other colheita that I have notes on (other than a couple with ‘pressed raisins. nice’ beside them) is the last port I drank – the bottle that the folks of Vinologia found hidden on a shelf that they’d forgotten about, Valriz 1958. I tried Valriz’s 1982 LBV in my last post and this wasn’t much older in terms of active aging, bottled in 1984 for a total of 26 years in wood. It had lost almost all of its red hue and sat in the glass a rich amber brown. On the nose it was musty with cheese rind, salted almonds and the ever present raisins. To taste there was stewed fruit, more cheese rind, a hint of wood smoke, orange peel, red boiled sweets and toffee apple caramel. The finish was quite long, with the almonds of the nose appearing as lightly sweet marzipan.

The oxidised wines were most favoured amongst my group and the wood aging does rub off the sweeter edges that you find in rubies, LBVs and vintages that appealed to the British palate in the past to give something a bit more appealing to a more savoury modern taste. Being a fan of wood aged spirits I came into learning about tawnies and colheitas very much wanting to like them, and found their variation from the red sweetness of the unoxidised wines appealing, but despite that I find that my sweet tooth is very much kicked by ports and I prefer the less oxidised styles. That is, until we come on to white ports…

Thanks to the folks at the For The Love of Port forum for the fact checking and flattery

Porto Ho – Part 2: Ruby, Vintage & Late Bottled Vintage

While there are a bunch of different styles of port most of them can be grouped together into related familes. The first of these that I’m going to witter about is the less oxidised trio of Ruby, Vintage and Late Bottled Vintage ports. Two of the main ideas behind port maturation are the allowing and restriction of air contact with the wine and this group are all about restriction. From last time, we’ve got wine that’s had its fermentation stopped early by the addition of neutral alcohol, creating a sweet grape based booze. It’s then transported to the port producer, at which point our story continues…

Not Eiffel's Bridge
A bridge not built by Eiffel

Ruby is the most common and generally cheapest form of port. When the wine arrives at the producer it is decanted into large vats or tanks of stainless steel, concrete or wood, where it is left for at least three years before being fined, filtered to remove any sediment, blended to maintain the house character and then bottled. The large storage containers mean that a smaller surface area is exposed to the air leading to less interaction with oxygen, so that the wine keeps its colour and also doesn’t change its flavour too much due to oxidisation. As the wine has been filtered it won’t change much in the bottle and isn’t consequently aged, leading to the cheaper price.

Vintage port takes the idea of ruby further by reducing the oxygen exposure even more. After an initial aging (in vat or barrel) of up to 2.5 years the wine is bottled unfiltered and then left to continue maturing under glass. The yeasts and other sediment allows the wine to develop over the years, often taking decades to reach its peak. In addition to this length of time before drinking the amount of vintage port produced is further restricted by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), the body that governs port production, both by regulating whether a port can be called a vintage and also by restricting the quantity of port that can be produced as vintage. In the spring of the second year after harvest each port house can choose to declare a vintage, at which point samples of the ruby port that they have been maturing with an eye to becoming a vintage are sent to the IVDP for quality control. If the IVDP accept the declaration then the port is bottled and left to mature. Vintage declaration doesn’t happen universally across all the port lodges in any given year, as it depends on the quality of the harvest in the house’s vineyards and wine that they have produced. Generally it happens a couple of times per decade for each house, although some declare more often.

The third related type is Late bottled Vintage, and these wines can be further split into two styles. They both start from the same place: wine from one year that has been matured in vats for longer than usual (4-6 years) is selected and bottled. The difference between the styles is that one is filtered before bottling and one not – the former will continue to develop in the bottle due to the sediment while the latter will be a more oxidised ruby. The trick with LBVs (with thanks to our guide at the Ferreira port lodge for the tip) is to buy unfiltered ones that are from the same year that the producer declared a vintage – the port is more oxidised, giving a different character, but if the base wine is good enough to be declared as a vintage it’ll probably make a good LBV. The fact that they are cheaper than vintages and are ready to drink earlier can’t hurt.

Other than the development in the bottle the main thing about the unfiltered wines, both vintage and LBV, is that they will contain sediment. As such they should usually be decanted to make sure that you don’t get too much of it in your glass, with the other intention of getting some air into the less oxidised wine to ‘let it breathe’. Sediment or no, these wines also don’t last as long after opening the bottle, as they will oxidise quickly, and not in the good way that I’ll talk about in the next post, although the higher alcohol content than unfortified wine should give a few days before they go stale.

On top of the general style classifications comes the concept of ‘single quinta’ wines, the quinta being the grape producer/vineyard. Rather than blending together wines from a number of vineyards, as as with most ports, the single quinta varieties are made from the grapes of one. For vintages this will generally be the best wines.

The ‘Finest Port Bar in Porto’ that I mentioned in the last post is, as Sjoerd rightly guessed in the comments, Vinologia – a bar good enough that we chose our hotel based on closeness to it. They offer a large range of ports, specialising in the smaller producers outside of Vila Nova de Gaia, and do flights of 3 or 6 glasses. Over the five occasions that I visited (in the four days that I was in Porto, including the one where I left before they opened…) I tried a few, starting with a flight of LBVs:

LBV FlightLBV Flight (glasses)

The first wine was a Quinta das Lamelas LBV 2005, a single quinta (as all of the ports naming the quinta seem to be) LBV that I assume is unfiltered (although as they weren’t decanted I’m not sure). Annoyingly I can’t find out much about the producer, especially as a bunch of their ports appeared during my trip, other than that they are probably (based on the names of some holiday accomodation) based around the town of Pinhão, one of the main centres of wine production in the Douro, and (from a now missing snippet on a google page) owned by João Guedes (a name attached to a number of people from actors to bankers to surfers). The port was a deep opaque red and had a nose of dry red fruit, light sweetness and some tannins. To taste it was nicely balanced between sweet and sour, with lightly sweet fruit and a woody finish.

The second was Quinta do Cachão LBV 1990. From what I can find online the producer is Sociedade de Agrícola e Commercial dos Vinhos Messias, based in Vila Nova de Gaia, and Quinta do Cachão is one of their prize vineyards that they produce their single quinta wines from. It was more transparent than the Lamelas and was purpley red. On the nose there was a hint of struck match sulphur, a soft fruitiness, light honey sweetness, red wine gums (both the fruit and waxiness) and freshly lit bunsen burner. To taste it was rich and much more consistently flavoured with a light alcohol burn. There was a touch of wood, liquorice root and sticky red boiled sweets balanced by sour wood.

The third of my flight was a 1982 Valriz LBV, produced by Aida Coimbra Ayres de Mattos & Filhos in Galafura in the Baixo Corgo. It was a translucent browny red and had quite a light savoury nose with a touch of sugary sweetness, light menthol and honey. To taste it was thick and fruity with buttered brown bread, with berry jam and a ripe grape finish – like a jam sandwich.

Vintage ports - the selectionVintage Flight

They had six vintage ports which we could choose from for a flight and I decided to slew towards the younger ones to try and see what the older ports develop from. The first for the vintage flight was the 2007 Quinta das Lamelas. The same quinta as the 2005 LBV I tried, this was quite different. The nose had Cherry and blackcurrant Tunes, a hint of sour tobacco, a light spice and a touch of red jam. To taste it was pure concentrated cherry (cherry jam and Luxardo cherries), ebbing away through a clean alcoholic hit.

Next was 2003 Quinta Seara d’Ordens, a small producer based north of the Douro near Poiares. They’re different to the other independent quintas that I’ve looked up so far in that they have their own website with a bunch of information about their history and wines. This port had a lightly tobaccoey nose, with dry red wine and cranberries. To taste it had more sweetness, with a bit of fresh cherry leading to a lightly wooded finish with a noticeable boozy burn.

The last entry in my vintage flight was 1989 Quinta de Val da Figueira. Again I can find nothing about the producer, with different webpages giving addresses in Pinhão and Porto, but as Vinologia specialises in the smaller producers this is not that much of a surprise. On the nose it had lots of wood (old cedar and oak cupboards), earthy smoke and lightly fruity berries underneath. The taste was grounded with a rich sticky cherry base, over which there was a chunk of wood surrounding a meaty middle. Over the 20 years of aging the port had lost a little of it’s bright red hew and gained some translucency – markedly more than the other wines in my flight. This, along with it not tasting quite as good as it had on one of my travelling companion’s previous visit to Porto, made us think that maybe it was a slightly dodgy bottle which had got a bit more air in through the cork than strictly necessary.

There was quite a lot of coordination in port choice between the various members of our party, as getting the widest range of wines out so that everyone could have a taste was our long decided plan, and my tablemate Phil also went for a flight of vintage ports. While we both jumped on the 1989, as it was the oldest vintage that was served as part of a flight, he chose a more sensibly varied range, picking a different 2007 and a 2000.

Phil’s first was 2007 Quinta de Retiro Novo, described by the barman as one that ‘has potential’. The quinta is owned by Wiese & Krohn and found near the town of Sarzedinho. Output is small and of high quality with production split between port and Douro wine production, with some of the top end wines still being made from foot trodden grapes. The nose on this was of sour red wine, tannic winey wood, strong tobacco (reminding me of the Drum/Duma I used to buy when I smoked roll-ups) and dried coffee cherries (a mix of leather, sour red fruit and coffee – I only know due to the bag I got as a bonus in an order from Square Mile Coffee). To taste it was much more restrained and simple than the nose – light cherries sweeping along to a woody end.

Next was 2000 São Pedro das Águias, another quinta that I can’t find much about online. The nose on this one was quite different to the others, with long stewed eccles cake raisins, dark chocolate and concentrated raspberry jelly cubes. To taste it was much lighter (as with a lot of the vintages we tried) with glacé cherries, although it did have a big jammy middle and syrupy mouth feel.

While vintages are the most lauded type of port, it’s the LBVs that interest me the most – I don’t have the patience to wait for a vintage to reach its peak (or the funds to buy ones that have already got there) but filtered and unfiltered LBVs from declared vintage years offer a chance to get a ready to drink or faster maturing bottle from those vintage years for a reasonable price. However, oxidation very much has its place in port maturation, which I’ll go into in my next post.