What makes tawny tawny?

Answered by James Kissner

Tawny Port gets its distinctive color and flavor profile from the aging process in wooden barrels. This aging process involves both evaporation and oxidation, which contribute to the unique characteristics of tawny wines.

Firstly, let’s talk about evaporation. When wine is aged in wooden barrels, a small amount of liquid evaporates through the pores of the wood over time. This evaporation is known as the “angel’s share” and can account for a loss of around 2-3% of the wine per year. As a result, the concentration of flavors and sugars in the remaining wine increases, leading to a more intense and complex taste.

The oxidation that occurs during barrel aging is another key factor in the development of tawny Port. Oxygen slowly permeates through the wood and interacts with the wine, causing chemical reactions that transform its color, aroma, and taste. Unlike red wines that are intended to be consumed young and fresh, tawny Port is deliberately exposed to oxygen for an extended period.

The oxidation process leads to the gradual darkening of the wine, shifting its hue from bright red to a more rusty or tawny color. This change in color is a visual indicator of the wine’s age and style. Young tawny Ports tend to exhibit a lighter tawny shade, while older ones can display deeper, amber tones.

Furthermore, the interaction with oxygen imparts distinct flavors and aromas to tawny Port. As the wine oxidizes, it develops secondary characteristics such as nutty, caramel, and dried fruit notes. These flavors are often described as reminiscent of almonds, hazelnuts, toffee, raisins, and figs. They add complexity and depth to the wine, creating a rich and velvety palate.

It is worth noting that the aging process of tawny Port is quite different from that of vintage Port. While vintage Ports are aged in bottle, tawny Ports spend a significant amount of time maturing in wooden barrels. This extended contact with wood allows for greater interaction with oxygen, resulting in the distinct tawny characteristics.

What makes tawny Port “tawny” is the combination of evaporation and oxidation during the aging process in wooden barrels. Evaporation concentrates the flavors and sugars, while oxidation changes the wine’s color and introduces nutty and dried fruit characteristics. The result is a unique style of Port that is visually appealing and offers a complex and rich taste experience.