Tawny Port vs Port: What’s the Difference?

tawny port vs port - otima10 tawny port

In the world of wine, you’ve come across the terms “Port” and “Tawny Port” a few times, but how are they different?

Port is a broad category of Portuguese fortified wines. Tawny Port is a subcategory – or style – of Port. Named for its reddish-brown color, Tawnies are sweet, high alcohol wines with nuts, caramel, and spice flavors. Tawny Ports can be inexpensive to premium priced for aged bottles.

Is Tawny Port a Port Wine? Yes! Here’s how Tawnies work.

What Is Port Wine?

what's the difference between tawny port vs port - douro
Douro River Valley, Portugal – Home to Port wine Attribute: Laszlo Daroczy

Port wine, often just called “Port” is a fortified wine made in the Douro Valley of Portugal. 

Port wines are always sweet, and typically red. Port’s fortified with distilled spirits which raise the alcohol level to 19%-22% alcohol by volume.

Renowned the world over, Port has a reputation for being a powerhouse of a wine with rich layers of flavor, a full body, and lingering notes of candy and fruit. 

Think of Port as the umbrella category.

tawn port vs port - all port styles infographic

There are several different styles of Port, including Ruby Port, Vintage Port, and Tawny Port (of course), among others. You can even find White Port and Rosé Port, but these are uncommon.

Each Port style has its own unique characteristics and flavor profile.

Tawny Port vs Port: What Is Tawny Port?

Tawny Port is a sweet fortified wine made from red grapes in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal.

Tawny Port is a style of Port wine that’s associated with extended cask aging – so much longer that it loses its color compared to Ruby Ports.

After such a long time in cask, the wine turns from deep red (ruby) to a lighter brownish-reddish color, or Tawny.

Hence the clever name: Tawny Port.

Tawny Ports are a blend of grapes and a blend of vintages.

What Does Tawny Mean in Port Wine?

Tawny means that the Port wine is made in an aged style bringing out nuts and caramel. This results in a tawny, or red-brown, color. Some Tawnies are aged for decades. Inexpensive Tawnies are made to mimic the effects of long aging through the winemaking process. Let price be your guide.

Helpful Tip: Check out this full post on Tawny Port wine that goes into more detail on the different flavor styles for these age categories.

What Are Styles of Tawny Port?

Today, there are three distinct styles of Tawny Port:

  1. Inexpensive, entry-level Tawnies
  2. Reserve Tawnies, and
  3. Aged Tawnies

It’s helpful to know what you’re buying and how they’re different.

  • Inexpensive Entry-Level Tawny: These Tawny Ports don’t get their light brown color from extended aging. Instead, they get their color through less-ripe grapes (not as much color pigmentation), and lighter extraction in the winery (not as much color dying the wine during winemaking). Inexpensive Tawnies may even spend time maturing in the hotter regions of the Douro Valley to speed up the aging process, helping them to develop that characteristic brown color. This is a little disingenuous to say the least.

Inexpensive Tawnies will have light caramel flavors and candied nutty notes but don’t expect the depth of flavor or intensity in these wines.

  • Reserve Tawny Port: Reserve Tawny Ports are one step up the quality ladder for Tawny Port wines. Reserves Tawnies have a minimum aging requirement of 6 years, meaning that the brownish-reddish color and nutty flavors actually come from really aging the wine. In honest. Over many years. Not through winemaking manipulations. Just to prove that the wine’s good, Reserve Tawnies go through a tasting panel by Port’s regulatory body, the IVDP (external link to read more about them).
  • Aged Tawny Port: Aged Tawny Ports are a blend of Port wines from different vintages that are crafted into fine examples of aged Port wines. They will have an age indication on the bottle that is a year (10, 15, 20, 30+).This doesn’t mean that all of the wine in the bottle is that age, but that the Tawny Port tastes like a wine that’s the age indicated on the bottle. Hence the name “Age Indicated Tawny Port”. Aged Tawny Ports have beautiful layers of complexity with dried cherry, dried purple flowers, toasted nuts, caramel, licorice, and even herbal notes like black tea. Yum!
Check out this Tawny Port sampler. If you can find one at your specialty liquor store, I highly recommend trying these out. Super fun! Here it is on TotalWine.com

Side Note: Aged Tawny Ports are some of my favorite wines of all time. Totally worth the $$,

Is Tawny the Same as Port Wine?

No, Tawny isn’t the same as Port wine. Tawny is a style of Port under the broader Port wine category. Other Port wines include Vintage Port, Colheita Port, Ruby Port, and even White Port. If you see the word ‘tawny’ on a bottle of Port, expect a sweet brownish-colored wine with nuts and caramel notes.

Helpful Tip: There’s lots to know about Port, so I put together this in-depth overview of how Port wines get made. Check it out!

Is Tawny Port Sweeter than Regular Port?

Tawny Port and regular Port have the same sweetness levels. All Ports have between 80 to 120 grams of residual sugar per liter. However, individual producers decide if they want sweeter Port (closer to 120 g/L) or less sweet Port (closer to 80 g/L). But even at 80 g/L, your Port wine will taste sweet!

Do Tawny Ports Improve with Age?

Tawny Ports aren’t designed to be aged further in bottle once you buy them. The wine producer released them for sale after aging the wine for you back at the winery. Definitely drink basic Tawnies right away. They can’t age. Reserve Tawnies and a Tawnies with age may keep for another year or two, but you’ll want to drink up!

How to Serve Tawny Port

  • Serve your Tawny Port slightly chilled. Keep the bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes before pouring.
  • Tawny Ports pair beautifully with anything that has chocolate, cream-based desserts, and blue cheeses.
  • Keep your leftovers in the fridge and drink within 30 days.

Helpful Tip: Check out this post on Port wine glasses.

Tawny Port vs Port: What’s the Difference?

Port is the category of fortified wine made in the Douro Valley of Portugal. All Ports are sweet, fortified wines. Tawny Port is a style of sweet Port wine that is reddish brown and has flavors of caramel, nuts, and dried fruits. Not all Port wines will be Tawnies, or even made out of red grapes!

Final Thoughts – Tawny Is a Port, but Not Every Port!

So, how are Port and Tawny Port different? Port is the broad category of fortified wines that has several different styles underneath it, including Tawny Port. 

Tawny Port is known for its ruddy brownish-reddish color, caramel, and nutty notes along with its high alcohol and sweet profile.

Tawny Ports come in three different quality levels: Basic, Reserve, and Age Indicated.

Each of these tyles offers a unique take on a classic Portuguese fortified wine.

Thirsty for More?

Fortified wines are relatively uncommon for most average wine drinkers, so I put together this post that goes into more detail on the differences between fortified and unfortified wines.

You may be interested in this post on how to pick out a good fortified wine.

Helpful Tip: Here’s a rundown of what wine glasses you should be using when drinking Port wines (and also creative substitutes if you don’t have a full wine bar). 

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