Review: Graham’s Tawny Port 10 Years Old (2016)

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Graham’s 10 year old tawny has been repackaged and relabeled in a squatter, fatter bottle since we last saw it in 2012, but little seems to have changed with this engaging, entry-level tawny. (Though prices are coming down a bit.) Prominent notes include the expected raisin notes, backed up by spicy gingerbread, cloves, and tea leaf notes. The finish is leathery and cherry-driven… all of which makes for a lot of consistency in this venerable brand, despite the altogether new look.

A- / $25 / grahams-port.com

Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old

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Not too long ago, we rounded up the world of Madeira as Blandy’s sees it. I won’t go into the full Madeira backstory; click the link if you want the deep dive into what Madeira is and where it comes from.

In that review we looked at five year old Madeiras. Now we kick it up another half-decade and look at the same wines at 10 years old, double the age.

I won’t regurgitate the story of Madeira again (click the above link for that tale) and will instead delve into these fortified wines, one by one, going stylistically from driest to sweetest, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 10 Years Old – A dark gold in color. Nutty and lightly fruity on the nose. Dry, but with enough life to keep things lively and sippable. Light tropical notes emerge on the finish, plus some lychee. This is quite pleasant on its own — or I might try it with tonic on the rocks as an aperitif. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 10 Years Old – Classic amber-hued sherry color. More roasted nuts, with some citrus influence. Quite almond- and hazelnut-heavy on the palate, with slight coffee overtones, but still showing enough sweetness in the form of orange and lemon to add some balance. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Bual Medium Rich 10 Years Old – A dark tea-stained brown in color. This Madeira offers a distinct sherry-like sharpness, with notes of bitter orange peel, raspberry, with those classic nutty notes coming on strong on the finish — here showing themselves more in the form of candied walnuts. Rounded and lush, but fully approachable. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 10 Years Old – Dark, almost coffee brown. Very nutty, on the palate it has the classic character that I think of when I think of “Madeira,” loaded with dried fruit and Christmas spice. The finish is moderately sour, with a heavy raisin character that lingers on the palate for quite some time. B+

each $24 / blandys.com

Exploring Port Wine: Touring Porto and the Douro Valley

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Port is unlike any other wine you’ve tasted, and as such it’s only fitting that the place the make it — Porto and the adjacent Douro Valley — is unlike any wine region you’ve visited, either.

For those unfamiliar with Port wine, a brief primer is in order. All Port is made here in northern Portugal, and though over 100 varieties of grapes are certified for use in Port production, only five of these are common: tinta barroca, tinta cão, tempranillo, touriga francesa, and touriga nacional. Few Port makers keep tabs on what grapes go into any given bottle of Port. Most Douro vineyards harvest and vinify field blends.

099Enter the Douro

The grapes for Port are exclusively grown in the Douro — an unending series of breathtaking, beautifully-stepped mountainside vineyards that wind along the path of the Douro River. The factory farm era has yet to reach the Douro, and it probably never will. Nearly 40,000 farmers work this land, some with parcels as small as an acre or less. Anyone making Port must work with a patchwork of dozens or hundreds of growers in order to obtain fruit, after which the grapes move from the vineyards to various wineries in the region, which are here called quintas. This is where the wine is actually made.

Our friends at Taylor Fladgate graciously spent a day driving us around the Douro, where we visited the company’s three properties at the namesake Taylor Fladgate, Croft, and Fonseca. Each quinta has its own DNA and sense of style, from the crowd-pleasing scene at Croft to the brutally hot and quaint Fonseca. You can taste the stylistic differences in the wines, too, but more on that in a bit.

113Port Styles 101

The process of making Port is wildly different than that of table wine. While the juice for dry table wine can ferment for a month, Port grapes ferment for only two or three days, after which time the fermentation, still low in alcohol and high in sugar, is arrested by the introduction of fresh grape brandy (about 77% alcohol) or another very high-alcohol spirit, roughly 4 parts wine to 1 part spirit. The alcohol kills the yeast and preserves the sugar remaining in the wine, bringing the abv down to about 20%. This is all done with surprisingly old-school production, and in the Port world, tradition reigns supreme to this day: Most quintas actually still foot-tread their grapes instead of relying on machinery to crush grapes into juice (those are empty lagares above; here’s a video of the crushing in practice). Treading is done in silence and takes hours and hours to complete.

From here, the winemaking process diverges quickly depending on what type of Port you’re making. Once a relatively simple drink, Port innovators (led by Taylor Fladgate) have expanded the varieties and styles of Port on the market considerably. Ruby Port is the most basic: Fresh wine is put into enormous vats (often made of chestnut) that hold thousands of gallons of juice. It slumbers here for about two years until bottling, bright red and alive with sugar.

Tawny Port is the other primary variety. Tawnies are stored in smaller casks called pipes, each about 550 to 620 liters in size. Tawnies take on some wood influence but, critically, oxidize much more quickly in the smaller barrels. These are then blended and bottled as 10, 20, 30, or 40 year old wines — though this, paradoxically, does not refer to the actual age of the wine but of the general “style” of what’s inside. Drink a 30 year old Tawny and you are assured of getting “30 year old quality” — not necessarily any wine that is really 30 years old.

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White Port is a relatively recent addition to the lineup; it’s made with white grapes (namely malvasia) instead of red and can work wonderfully as a cocktail mixer. The most recent addition to the industry is Rose Port, which is a fresh, “pink” style that has a lot in common with rose table wine.

Vintage Port is simply Ruby Port that comes from a single vintage. It’s only made in the best years, 2 or 3 times per decade. Vintage Ports command the highest prices of all Port wines, and they can be aged in bottle for many, many decades. Late Bottled Vintage Port is a bit confusing, because it has a vintage date on it, but it is not Vintage Port. LBV Ports come from quintas other than those used for Vintage Port, and are aged in cask much longer than the typical Ruby (5 to 6 years is common), which often gives it a deeper and more raisiny, almost Zinfandel-like character. It’s not as ageworthy as Vintage Port (LBV can usually be consumed right away), but can be considerably less expensive than Vintage Port.

Single Quinta Vintage Port also adds to the confusion because it is Vintage Port released from single wineries, as the name suggests, usually in years that a Vintage Port is not declared. They age in bottle just like Vintage Ports but can be purchased for much less. Lastly there are Colheita Ports, which are vintage-dated Tawny Ports. While regular Tawnies are blends of a wide range of vintages, Colheitas come from a single one.

 

065From the Douro to Porto

All of this aging takes place not in the Douro Valley quintas but rather in the city of Porto — or rather, in the Villa Nova de Gaia, which is the part of Porto that is on the east side of the Douro River. Nothing involving Port wine happens on the western Porto side (which features the old city center and most of the town’s industry). In Gaia, it is seemingly nothing but Port houses, which are called lodges in the local parlance. Why “lodge?” Simply because it sounds better than “warehouse,” of which there are dozens in Gaia, each of which is often emblazoned with a huge sign bearing the name of the owner in monstrous letters, making for a truly unique skyline. Wine is aged here instead of in the Douro exclusively because of the heat. In Porto it can easily be 20 degrees cooler than in the Douro — though modern air conditioning is starting to change this for a few producers.

Visitors to Porto can walk along the waterfront and visit any number of these Port producers, most of which have tasting rooms and visitors’ centers, just like you’d see in any highly touristed wine region. Some, like Taylor Fladgate, are incredibly modern, including such up-to-the-minute touches as a “selfie station” next to a giant barrel of Ruby Port. Some, like Niepoort, are exactly the opposite. Niepoort isn’t open to the public and doesn’t even have a sign on the door — in fact, the building doesn’t even have a proper floor. At Niepoort’s lodge, the ground is simply made of packed earth that can be hosed down to cool things off on hot days. Spiders are encouraged to roost in the windows; their webs help block out the sunlight. (Many thanks to Niepoort for giving us access and a private tour of the facility.)

045Most visitors to this area never leave Porto, and that’s fine. You can taste dozens of Port wines here and get the full scoop on understanding how Port is made if you never leave Gaia, but visiting the Douro itself is a day trip that’s really worth it — not just for the wine but for the unforgettable scenery, too. (Taylor Fladgate operates luxury hotels in both Porto (The Yeatman) and the Douro (The Vintage House), so you can easily spend a day in both locations if you’re game.)

Before we move on to some Port wine reviews, here’s one pro tip for drinking Port. Everywhere in Portugal, Port — no matter what the variety — is served at least slightly chilled. (White Port and Rose Port are typically served well-chilled.) Having Ruby and Tawny Ports about 10 degrees colder really makes a difference. In America, we tend to see these wines poured at room temperature, which puts a heavy focus on the brandy rather than the fruit, making Port taste “hot” with alcohol. By chilling things down, you’ll often find that the wine showcases a whole new dimension of character.

Many thanks to Taylor Fladgate for taking the time to give Team Drinkhacker a tour of the Douro and the Taylor Fladgate lodge in Porto. Taylor’s tasting center in Gaia is absolutely not to be missed if you visit.

Port Wine Reviews, 2016

And now, a catalog of the many Port wines we encountered during our time in the Porto and the Douro.

Niepoort Ruby Port – Fresh, mint notes, strong cherry and raspberry, vanilla and licorice. A big crowd-pleaser. A-

Niepoort Tawny Port – A sweeter style of tawny than usual. Dark tea, brown sugar, cloves, and ginger notes. A bit tarry on the finish. B+

Niepoort 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Intriguing strawberry notes, vanilla frosting; quite sweet for a tawny. B

2012 Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port – Chocolatey and dense, almost whiskey-like at times, showing dark cherries, tea leaf, fresh herbs, and some elderflower notes. A-

2005 Niepoort Tawny Colheita – Strawberry and mint start things off on a wine that showcases lots of depth. The finish evokes figs and dates. Very rich and lovely. A

2005 Niepoort Vintage Port – Very dense, with intense chocolate, dark raisin and prune character, and some honey on the finish. Still needs years of time to mature. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old White Port – Unusual to see a white port with an age attached; this one offers a sherry nose, orange peels, flowers, and golden raisins. A-

Caves Vasconcellos 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A little thin and rather plain. Leathery with subtle coffee notes and touches of figs. B

Caves Vasconcellos 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Quite smoky, with strong wood influence. I’m reminded a lot of Amontillado sherry. B-

Taylor Fladgate Chip Dry White Port – Extra dry style, spends three years in wood. Fragrant and lightly nutty. Not sold in the U.S., it was the first White Port ever marketed. B+

2011 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage – Very dark and brooding, with blackcurrants, leather, and tobacco notes. The finish offers chocolate galore. A-

Taylor Fladgate 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Red berries and some chocolate notes, lightly oxidized with gentle balsamic character. Pretty but mild. B

Taylor Fladgate 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Heavily oxidized on the nose, with notes of orange peel, nuts, and a touch of coffee. B+

0941966 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port – This is essentially a Colheita style port, a Tawny that is 50 years old. A knockout, with mint, intense nuttiness, coffee, and quiet raisin and baking spice character. Despite the age, it has a sunny finish. Opulent yet easily drinkable. Best Port I tried on the entire trip. A+

Croft Pink – The original rose Port, made from 100% red grapes that spend 6 hours on the skins; it never sees wood. Notes of strawberries and some tea leaf lead to a simple and fruity wine. We reviewed this years ago; it was more recently reformulated to reduce the total sugar level.) B+

Croft 10 Years Old Tawny Port – A nose of mocha and baking spice lead to a significantly more fruit-focused body, with notes of fruit tea and a jammy finish. B+

Fonseca Siroco White Port – Quite dry and herbal, with some astringency and floral notes. B-

Fonseca Terra Prima – Sold as Terra Bella in the U.S. Fonseca’s organic Ruby Port is fresh with fruit, mint, and offers a long, sweet finish. Quite luscious. B+

Fonseca 20 Years Old Tawny Port – Butterscotch heavy, with lots of acidity. Some herbs meld well with marzipan notes and a burnt sugar finish. A-

2012 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port – Fonseca releases vintage-dated Port in non-vintage declared years under the Guimaraens sub-label. A big, dark chocolate nose leads to an explosive body, heavy with fruit and tannins. Long finish. A-

Ramos Pinto White Port Reserva – Fresh, lightly sweet, with some lemon notes. A little vegetal on the finish. B

Ramos Pinto 10 Years Old Tawny Port – Classic tawny, with lots of nuts, leather, and some Madeirized fruit. Coffee and tea on the finish. B+

2005 Ramos Pinto Vintage Port – Dense with dark chocolate and heavy cassis. Long finish with considerable life left in it. B+

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Review: 2011 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port

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A new LBV release has arrived from Port titan Dow.

Surprisingly restrained, the omnipresent raisin character of this Port is muted by heavy milk chocolate notes, vanilla, and notes of pie crust. The body is loaded with sweetness, but lacks some needed gravity, coming across more like a candy bar than the bold dessert wine it wants to be. Fair enough for a casual dessert wine, but it isn’t a standout of the genre.

B / $15 / dows-port.com

Review: NV Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto (2016)

Sandeman founders reserveHere’s a fresh look at Sandeman’s widely-available nonvintage Ruby Port, which is sold in the squat bottles labeled Founders Reserve. (We last reviewed it in 2012.)

It’s a rather alcohol-forward Port, which dulls the raisiny core more than a bit with some hospital character. Secondary notes of weak tea, rhubarb, and caramel sauce find an unhappy hanger-on on the form of some canned vegetable notes that linger on both the nose and the finish, dulling this wine’s impact.

B- / $15 / sandeman.com

Diving into Sherry: Hidalgo Fino and Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez

WFS_InfographicsSherry is slowly making inroads into the U.S., but even those who enjoy it don’t know a whole lot about Spain’s classic fortified wine. Fortunately, our friends from Wines From Spain have put together a handy infographic outlining and explaining the six major varieties of sherry, along with general information about how Jerez (Spanish for sherry and also the name of the town nearest to where many sherry grapes are cultivated) is produced. Check it out by clicking the image to the right.

While you’re reading, here’s a look at a couple of popular bottlings of the stuff, produced in two very different styles.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Jerez Seco – Fino is the lightest and driest of sherry styles, made from Palomino Fino grapes and lightly aged with a blanket of yeast, called flor, on top of it. In many ways this is sherry at its purest, and it’s what most people likely think of when they think about sherry. Dry to an extreme, this Fino presents notes of nuts, melon, and a bit of sea spray — in many ways it reminds me of sake, and it can be consumed in similar fashion. The finish is Pedro Ximénez (1)where things go a bit off-track for me — that dryness turning astringent, with some petrol notes overstaying their welcome. 15% abv. C+ / $16

Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez Jerez – The other side of the sherry universe, made from Pedro Ximenez grapes and ages without flor (the 1970 is just a brand name, not a vintage), then sweetened up for bottling. Deep brown/almost black in color, the Oxford 1.970 is loaded with notes of spiced raisins, coffee, chocolate, and lots of figs. A cousin to Port, it’s less brooding and more fruit-forward, those fig notes elevating the sherry into a livelier less intense experience. 17% abv. A- / $17 (500ml)

winesfromspainusa.com

Review: NV Cockburn’s Special Reserve Porto

Cockburns_Special_Reserve_75clCockburn’s Special Reserve is a widely available ruby Port, nothing fancy, but workable in a pinch. The wine offers a largely standard nose of raisins, with a bit of dried blueberry. On the palate, the wine comes across as less dense than many nonvintage Ports, a touch watery, but still full of flavor and life. Again, juicy raisins mingle with light milk chocolate notes, plus a smattering of herbs on the finish. The fade-out is moderate to short, but never unpleasant. A fine way to invest less than 20 bucks in an after dinner drink for the sideboard.

B / $18 / cockburns.com

Review: NV Blandy’s Rich Madeira Alvada 5 Years Old

I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on a new Madeira, amirite? OK, so this fortified wine is not the world’s hottest category, but the market leader, Blandy’s, is still innovating with the release of Alvada, a five year old blend of 50% Bual and 50% Malmsey grapes.

What’s Alvada? Per Blandy’s: “Alvada is … derived from the Madeiran word ‘levada.’ A levada is a granite channel that one finds all over the island. Exclusive to the Island of Madeira and critical to the grapes and all agriculture on the island, levadas help move water throughout the island to irrigate farmland. These levadas are still used to this very day and in total span more than 1,350 miles altogether.”

Deep coffee brown in color, with classic Madeira overtones on the nose — acidity, well-tanned leather, and prune notes. The body tells a bit of a different story, though — light for a Madeira, and quite fruity, showcasing macerated raisins and sour cherries that mingle with the nutty notes and oxidized wine characters. The finish is also light but keeps the focus on the fruitier elements. Definitely a starter Madeira, but a finer example of how enjoyable this wine style can be even at a very young age.

19% abv.

B / $18 (500ml) / blandy.com

Review: 2009 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Dows LBV 2009With this 2009, Dow has crafted an affordable late bottled vintage port that’s perfectly quaffable right from the gate. Pure raisins on the nose, with just a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves — laced in. On the tongue, there’s pure dried berries, some caramel and chocolate sauce, and a strawberry glaze. It’s lacking the brooding depth of a vintage port, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A terrific value.

A- / $24 / dows-port.com

Review: NV Blandy’s Sercial Madeira 10 Years Old

Blandys Sercial 10 YearThis Sercial bottling of Blandy’s Madeira is a 10 year old expression of its driest style of Madeira. Here it takes on notes of dry apple cider, roasted nuts, and spiced raisins. The finish has a sharpness to it — think spiked, wintry mulled wine — leading to more spicy, almost perfumed, baked apple notes. An interesting expression in comparison to the younger, drier 5 year old Sercial from Blandy’s.

B+ / $30 (500ml) / blandys.com

Review: NV Graham’s Six Grapes Porto Special Old Vines Edition

Grahams Six Grapes Old Vine (high res)If you’ve ever had a glass of Port, you’ve probably had Graham’s Six Grapes, an ubiquitous Ruby Port that is lush, easy-drinking, and cheap — making it a nice choice for everyday after-dinner sipping.

Now Graham’s is giving Six Grapes an upgrade with a new special edition bottling, Special Old Vines Edition. Graham’s explains:

It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, our winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, have decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas. The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago. This wine will only be available in very limited quantities.

The wine is a winner. The intense raisin and prune notes of standard edition Six Grapes are pushed aside here to make room for more of a chocolate character. It still features classic raisiny Port notes, but in the Special Edition these take on a more gentle, less sour quality. The nose features touches of dried savory herbs, the body is laced with notes of gingerbread and cinnamon. Amazing in its depth, the wine is both fun to really dig into and explore but also incredibly easy to drink.

Only 500 cases have been made, so if this is up your alley, snap Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition up!

A / $42 / grahams-port.com

Review: Tawny Ports of Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate, 2014 Releases

1964 Single Harvest Tawny 2

Even seasoned wine enthusiasts often get confused over the world of Port, and who can blame them? Bottled both in vintage-dated and non-vintage but “xx years old” varieties (and in ruby, tawny, white, and other versions), the topic quickly gets complicated — when all you want to do is enjoy something sweet with dessert.

What’s the difference between ruby and tawny, the two major types of nonvintage Port? As Taylor Fladgate wine director David Guimaraens says, “Most people are familiar with the dark purple, ‘ruby’ Ports which range from very basic up to the storied Vintage Ports.  Rubies are aged in bottles, so they keep their fresh red fruit flavors.  On the other hand, Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks, so they have more interchange with the air around them.  This process evolves their color to a ‘tawny’ amber color, and changes their flavors from predominantly fruity to predominantly nutty.”

Guimaraens’ comments aside, I’d still characterize most tawny Ports as extremely fruity, but more chocolatey and coffee-like than rubies. These notes come across more distinctly in older bottlings, though. Young tawny can often be just as fruity as a typical ruby.

What does “10 years old” or “20 years old” mean in these Ports? Well, contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t mean that in 2004 or 1994, Port was dumped into a barrel and a decade or two later was prepped for bottling. Ports with age statements like this are blends of a variety of years, and the number on the label is somewhat meaningless. Most tawnys are a blend of solera-style old stock and young stock, and the years noted on the label are a sort of moving target that the blender is supposed to aim for. There’s nothing requiring any sort of accuracy here, and in many cases no way of even knowing how old the wine is in any given bottle. But a 20 year old should at least taste older than a 10 year old, even if both of those numbers are fudged a bit.

The exception of course is when a vintage does actually appear on the label. That’s the case with the last tawny on the list below, a 1964 single-vintage Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. What that means is exactly what it sounds like: This Port was made exclusively from grapes picked in ’64. Yes, 50 years ago. They’ve been mellowing out in barrel ever since, and aren’t blended with other vintages. And unlike non-vintage Tawny, this stuff won’t be around forever, so snap it up while you can.

Croft, Fonseca, and Taylor Fladgate are all sub-brands of Taylor’s, a mega-Port operation whose CEO, Adrian Bridge, we’ve met on several occasions. He’s a swell guy, and we’re excited to offer notes on several Tawny Ports in current release, as well as the exceptional 1964. Thoughts follow.

NV Croft Aged Tawny Porto 10 Years Old (bottled in 2010) – Bright raspberry and sour cherry notes, just the right amount of vinegar to balance out some very focused fruit flavors. I’ve always thought of Croft as the fruitiest of vintage Ports, and here it produces a tawny that is closer to the ruby style of Port than most others you’ll encounter. Very easy drinking and versatile. A- / $28

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Jammier, with more chocolate notes, and a lightly minty finish. Long, bold, and lightly creamy on the palate, this is a tawny with a little more oomph and more sourness on the back end. B+ / $23

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 10 Years Old – Somewhere between the fruitiness of Croft and the power of Fonseca lies Taylor Fladgate’s 10 year Tawny, an inviting wine with ample fruit at the core, but with bittersweet edges of licorice, chicory, and coffee bean. These characteristics, plus some chocolate notes, tend to overtake the fruit on the finish, but the body, on the whole, is surprisingly delicate. Complex, yet a bit immature. B+ / $23

NV Fonseca Aged Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Plenty of fruit and body here, but the chocolate notes are pumped up, and the fruit takes on more of a classic, Port-like raisin character. At 20, some of the more rustic elements of the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny are rounded out, giving this Port a slightly more refined construction, albeit one with plenty of lasting sweetness. A- / $40

NV Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Years Old – Lots of intensity here, with an almost bruising sour cherry and tart raisin character that overpowers some of this Port’s more delicate coffee and chocolate notes. The finish is lasting and almost punishing in its mouth-puckering character. This is a step back from the 10 year. B / $40

1964 Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny Port (pictured) – Wow, this is how tawny should be experienced. Drawn from a single vintage that’s 50 years old, this tawny is showing well rounded notes of cinnamon, raisin, and allspice… layered with cedar wood, chocolate, and coffee bean notes. The finish is long and sweetly sour — ending on a note of Cherries Jubilee that has the perfect balance of fruity and winey flavors. Lovely. A / $300

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