First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, 30th November, 2019.
There can be few nicer things than sitting down in front of a fire, or cuddled up on the sofa, with a glass of warming, sweet fortified wine on a cold winter’s evening. A mince pie, a slice of Christmas cake completes the scene. Or, if like me your tastes are more savoury, a hunk of blue cheese, a few walnuts and some crackers. Either way, it creates a sense of hygge (Scandinavians love port but prefer Glogg or mulled wine) and provides a barrier to the cold outside. So, this Christmas make sure you have a bottle of something decent to hand. I will take a look at dry fortified wines next week, this week tawny port. A fortified wine is simply a wine that has been boosted by the addition of some grape brandy. This is done during fermentation and kills the yeasts off, leaving a naturally sweet wine.
Port has moved away from the images of crusty gout-ridden colonels sitting in their club sipping a glass of vintage port. A new generation of wine drinkers see it as something to enjoy with food. These days tawny port is more often drunk lightly chilled with a dessert or as an aperitif or even with savoury dishes.
Vintage and late-bottled vintage port are aged in the bottle, whereas tawny matures in barrel for periods of up to 40 years. Younger tawny port, such as 10-year-old still retains some ripe sweet fruits. As it ages in barrel port becomes nuttier and woodier.
The age statement is an average age; a 10-year-old will be a blend of various wines ranging from five to 15 years old. A Colheita tawny port is from a single vintage. All tawny comes ready-aged, and doesn’t need decanting.
Although we are happy to drink sweet soft drinks and medium-dry appassimento wines, some wine drinkers feel port is too sweet or too high in alcohol. The quality of all ports across the range is higher than ever. All four wines below offer great value for money, and would make a great Christmas present too. Aldi’s Maynards 10-year-old is an amazing bargain.
You can of course enjoy tawny port alongside sweet treats such as fruit cake and mince pies, but it also goes very well with pecan pie and walnut tart. I suspect it might go well with rich eggy pasteis de nata too. On the savoury side I have also enjoyed it with chicken liver parfait and firm cheeses. At the table, tawny certainly tastes so much better if served lightly chilled, in proper wine glasses too. Why not try it out this Christmas?
Maynard’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
A rich complex Port with sultanas, raisins, hazelnuts and milk chocolate. Perfect with fruit cake, chocolate desserts or even a box of chocolates.
From Aldi, Aldi.ie
Krohn 10 Year Old Tawny Port
A delicious warming fruit-filled port with sweet plums, dried fruits, a light woodiness and good acidity to stop it cloying. One to dip into over Christmas.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Kopke 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Concentrated dried and candied fruits with toasted walnuts and a whiff of old wood. Perfect on its own, or with chocolate brownies.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie
Offley Ten Year Old Tawny Port
Some rich damson fruits alongside the grilled hazelnuts, dried citrus peel and butterscotch. Not too sweet, and a lovely glass of wine. With chicken liver parfait, pecan pie or Christmas cake.
From The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, Thewinecentre.ie; Wineonline.ie.