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Dessert Wine's Secret

Dessert Wine’s Best Kept Secret… from Down Under

When it comes to dessert wines, I’m here to talk about what others are not: The Australian Tawny.

For some reason this port is unloved, or at least not talked about very much, so I wanted to shed some light on this hidden gem of Australian wine production.

From a pricing perspective, it’s actually fortunate that this dessert wine is overlooked. The most expensive ports come from Portugal, where the style originated, leaving other countries’ port productions slightly less desirable. Notice, I called this wine “Australian Tawny”, not “Australian Tawny Port.” That’s because most countries are taking "Port" off their labels unless the grapes and production are based in Portugal, just like "Champagne" should only be on bottles that originate from that French region.

A good 10-year Tawny Port will cost about $30 retail, while its Aussie counterpart – typically with the same aging and quality – will cost around $13 to $20.

The Tawny was born in the 1600s from a time when England began boycotting French wine, depriving its citizenry of red table wine. The British sought new sources and discovered the great reds of the Douro River Valley in Portugal.

In order to preserve the wine for the shipping voyage back to England, a bit of brandy was added to the barrels, creating this fortified form of regular table wine, a bit thicker and sweeter, and thus, Port wine was born.

Not long after, the commonwealth of Australia was established, creating an even longer time for barrels of the sweet nectar to sit in the bottom of hot, swaying ships as it traversed the globe to the far southern hemisphere. The Port was oxidized in the ships for longer periods, creating a much different flavor profile than the ruby ports that were shipped across Europe. (Think of a peeled apple on a kitchen counter: The oxidizing caramelizes some of the wine sugars and creates a flavor profile of tree nuts, caramel, and dried fruit.) The Australian Tawny also had a darker, tawny coloring for extended travel. The farther the trip, the more tawny it got!

Tawny Port can be enjoyed year-round, but it’s especially nice this time of year because of its nutty nature consistent with fall feasts.

Our favorite from a recent tasting is the Yalumba Museum Reserve Antique Tawny ($20 for a half bottle), the result of at least 10 years average aging in barrel before going to bottle. Other names to look for include Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny, Chateau Reynella, and my personal favorite, Yalumba Clocktower Tawny, which comes off not-so-sweet with a delicious pronounced nuttiness.

Pair them with chocolate, mild cheese, or fruit for a wonderful harvest aftertaste.

Clink! Clink!
Jon Hartlage

Assistant Sommelier

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