One good way to learn about Graham’s ports is to taste in flights of several wines, as the contrast between wines helps to clarify and highlight the qualities of each. At the Graham’s Port Lodge, one of the popular choices for our visitors is a tasting of three tawnies, including The Tawny, Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny and Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny. This particular line up is not just delicious, it provides an excellent demonstration of the effects of ageing in small cask.
All port wines, when they are brought down river to Gaia in the spring after harvest, are first stored in immense wooden balseiros of tens of thousands of litres. As our tasting room team assess each wine in the months and years after harvest, they may decide to move part or all of a particular wine into small casks of 550 litres, called pipes (or pipas in Portuguese) for eventual use in tawny ports. All wine stored in a wooden container of any size will experience a very gentle and minute exchange of oxygen through the wood, but when a small amount of wine is in a small cask the effect of this transpiration is intensified. Over a period of years in small casks the colour of the wine will change from deep dark ruby to more translucent tawny. The flavour will also change and mature, from the luscious red- or black-fruit driven flavours of young port, to more mellow and complex dried fruit, fig, honey, caramel and nut flavours, and in very old tawny ports will move on to even more complex flavours like tobacco and coffee.
Graham’s “The Tawny” is a blend of wines which have aged from 7 to 9 years, whilst the wines in the indicated age tawnies will have an average age of blend of the number of years named on the label – in this flight, we contrast The Tawny with our 20 Year Old and 30 Year Old tawnies.
One clue to the age of a tawny port will be the intensity and shade of colour. The Tawny is a very deep and intense golden-amber, a true and classic tawny colour. When you look at the Graham’s 20 Year Old, you see the same deep true tawny in the core, but with slightly less intensity of tone and a broader “rim” – the band of gradually diminishing colour at the edge of the wine when the glass is held at angle. This is due to the proportion of older wines in the blend. The 30 Year Old will be distinctly lighter, with an orange tint to the amber.
The Tawny is distinguished by an orange peel aroma on the nose, with hints of almond and possibly spice. In the 20 Year Old the almond aromas come to the fore; although the orange scent remains in the mix it steps back as compared to The Tawny. Graham’s 30 Year Old takes another turn altogether – all about dried fruits, the bouquet is strikingly perfumed and concentrated.
When you taste these wines you will find that the impact on your palate is much more complex than just flavour notes. Whilst the orange peel in The Tawny comes to the fore on the palate as it did on the nose, the outstanding impression is how incredibly refreshing it is, very distinctly so as compared with other port styles; serve it chilled to enhance this.
Graham’s 20 Year Old also delivers to the palate what it promised on the nose – nuttiness first and foremost, with some caramel and a lingering whiff of orange, but this wine is very sensual on the palate, very rich, sweet and smooth without cloying. Also very refreshing served chilled, the 20 Year Old Tawny is a particularly versatile partner for foods, the favourite choice amongst our Lodge staff being Crème Brulée.
Finally, our 30 Year Old Tawny Port shows its maturity in the sheer concentration and complexity of its palate which almost defies flavour note definition. Here, the wine is about the finish – it simply lasts and lasts. Although it could be paired with dark chocolate, this is a wine to be savoured as an after dinner treat by itself in lieu of any sweet dish.
We hope you will take the opportunity some time to try a flight of tawnies with friends, to savour the differences, to better understand the effects of wood aging, and most of all, to simply enjoy Graham’s wonderful range of tawny port wines.