David Fonseca Guimaraens, Fonseca and Taylor’s Port, Portugal

A Portuguese perspective on Tawny

The long-running debate over the use of generic names for wine products sadly results in overlooking the dedication and winemaking skill from several generations of New World wine producers. Many of my colleagues in the Port industry and the general Portuguese public frequent lament Australia's production of so-perceived fake imitations of 'our Port', showing little respect or knowledge for Australia's two centuries of fortified winemaking. The discussion is quickly solved when I ask them, 'What did we call our sparkling wines in Portugal up to 15 years ago? Champagne, of course'.

This issue was solved in June this year by the new agreement between the European Commission and Australian Federal Government to end Australian producers' use of European geographical names to describe their wine. I hope this marks a time when Portuguese consumers will start to have respect the fabulous fortified wines from Australia, and hopefully the Australian consumer will learn to appreciate the unique characteristics of Port and the extraordinary region where it comes from.

In Portugal, the base Ports used to age Tawnies are similar as a result of the traditional vineyards in the Douro being planted with a random selection of our local grape varieties. The different house-styles are credited to the choices of location and wood type, and the blender's technique.

The approach the Portuguese take to producing Tawny Ports is different to how Tawnies are produced in Australia, as are Tawnies produced in the Banyuls region of Northern Spain. For this reason Tawnies from Australia best classified in their own right as they are not 'Port'.

Australian Tawnies are generally produced from lighter-base fortified wine, made from varieties such as Grenache, and then are aged in oak casks that are normally stored in hot and dry cellars. These conditions rapidly create the tawny colour and the characteristic rancio aromas. Generally, Australian Tawny is considerably sweeter than its Portuguese counterparts.

One factor that all Tawnies have in common is the need to build up sufficient stock due to its requirement to age in contact with oxygen to produce its Tawny character. The amount of time required to create a Tawny, and the patience of its producers has also been a decisive factor in dictating the way Tawnies are produced in each region. Within the Port trade we recognise a significant difference between Ports aged in our lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia and those aged in the hotter and drier conditions of the Douro Valley. In fact the rancio character, as opposed to the nutty character, is the character associated with Ports aged in the Douro, and is a character that we tend to avoid.

The drier style of the Portuguese Tawnies requires more concentration and nuttiness to be achieved from the ageing process, and here there is no shortcut in time. In fact it is the combination of the fruitier Ports set aside for our Tawnies aged for longer and in more humid conditions that make the drier Portuguese Tawnies so enjoyable, with their characteristic sweatiness on the palate transforming into a dry finish with the lingering nutty aftertaste.

The full report can be found in the July-August Wine Industry Journal. To subscribe visit winetitles.com.au/wij/subscribe

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