Sunday, December 20, 2015

20 Year old Tawny Port and Trollope

I presented 20 year old Graham's tawny at a wine tasting recently. It was for a university wine society and the theme was wines to enjoy by the fire with a good book. Id already started planning these posts and thought I'd be able to recycle some of the work - it hasn't worked out that way, but it was a fun tasting to do. Initially it looked like I was going to just get a budget and a free hand to choose the wines (bliss) but in the end there was some compromising to do (par for the course) after the organiser took fright over my predilection for sherry. 

Tawny port starts off as, well it starts off as port but it stays in the barrel and ages. Whilst it does this its colour fades to a tawny brown - hence the name. It also means that it won't need decanting as any sediment will stay in the barrel. It's easy enough to buy 10, 20, or 30 year old tawny's but the 20 year old is arguably the best of the bunch. The flavour becomes increasingly concentrated as it ages due to a combination of oxidisation (distinctive once you've tasted it) and evaporation. At 29 years you get the complexity and an impression of extra sweetness thanks to that ageing process, but still with a relative freshness and balancing acidity that can be lost in older examples. 

It pairs extremely well with dried fruit and nuts (so Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, stollen) as well as blue cheeses - it's a safe bet some, if not all, of those will be available over the next few weeks. And because it's already relatively oxidised it's a wine that will keep well for up to a month which means plenty of time for civilised sipping. 

It also gives you plenty of time to get through one of Trollope's (Anthony rather than Joanna - I was almost offended to be asked such is my fondness for Anthony, but the group wasn't to know) great big sprawling epics. I gave 'The Prime Minister' waiting for me, though a month might give me a good run at 'The Way We Live Now' (accompanied by a thinble full of wine a night). If I was sharing the bottle the very seasonal Penguin edition of 'Christmas At Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories' would be more realistic. 

Or perhaps this is the time to read Trollope's autobiography to see if his idea of himself is anything like my idea of him. To me he is the quintessentially conservative figure with his middle class morals and prejudices, and I love him for it. I feel the same about the port as I do about Trollope. It's liquid shorthand for a comfortable chair in a library full of leather bound books, for a world of tradition and certainty, and for good things and cheer. But there is also that balancing act with the still racy acidity in the wine - so the library might have some improper books in it, and it's not all cosy sentimentality around the tradition and certainties either. Still, reading Trollope is a very particular pleasure, and so is a good tawny port, the two together seem perfect to me. 


  1. I love your last paragraph. What a great description of Trollope (and Tawny port!). Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, and merry Christmas back. Am so looking forward to time off, friends, and books.

  2. I think we need to know what you would drink with Joanna T.

  3. I've never yet read her so not sure what she would call for. I imagine her readers as good slug of Sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio drinkers. But I might be wrong, it's a challenge for next year.