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Indication of Age Tawnies

September 13, 2012
Question by: Jeff, New York, USA

Q:

An age old question (pun intended) came up again about the labeling of Tawny ports while enjoying a bottle of Grahams 20 Year Old Tawny.  While common convention dictates that the age of the tawny indicates the average age of the wines in the bottle, my understanding is that current IVDP laws regulate that as long as the wine subjectively taste like a particular age characteristic the bottle can be labeled as such.  Is my understanding correct that a majority of port houses actually adhere to the IVDP interpretation and not what common sense dictates?

A:

Hi Jeff, As it happens I was able to pose this question to Dominic this afternoon over a glass of Graham's 10 Year Old Tawny, after lunch at Malvedos!  He confirmed that the IVDP assessment for purposes of approval to label indication of age Tawnies is wholly subjective - based on a visual and sensory assessment of the wine.  He also confirmed that yes, it is conceivable that the IVDP could approve a wine to be labelled as XX Year Old Tawny that might in fact be a blend with younger average age than on the label - there is that risk.

He then went on to give some tips how you could assess a wine for yourself.  The first sign for any tawny upwards of 10 years old will be the colour in the rim - tip your glass at a pretty flat angle and look at the colour against a white surface.  The rim of the wine should be clear or only just barely tinted tawny.  If it is quite noticeably coloured, particularly if it still shows a red tone, then chances are that wine is younger than 10 years old (or maybe not a tawny, of course - good to bear in mind in a blind tasting).  If the wine claims to be older, the next sign to look for is a green tone in the rim - this starts to appear around 25 years of age, you should look for it in a 30 or 40 Year Old Tawny.  In a 40 Year Old, you should see that flash of green tone even in the heart of the wine as well as on the rim.

Finally, in comparing 30 to 40 Year Old Tawnies, bear in mind that colour actually intensifies beyond 30 years or so.  Essentially, by 30 or 35 years of age, those colour compounds that are going to precipitate out, will have done so (and the precipitate will have been left behind in the racking process), so your 30 Year Old will likely be the palest in a line up of 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Olds.  After that time, as the wines continue to age in pipe, the process of oxidation and evaporation continues without further loss of colour compounds - the result being a concentration of colour and flavour in the older tawnies or colheitas.

As far as the indication of age Tawnies made by Symington, all of our blends work out to be consistently a few years in excess of the age on the label.  For more about blending Tawnies, you might be interested in reading about a Tawny Port blending exercise Rupert did with some visitors to Malvedos during the 2010 harvest.



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