Any Port in a Storm? Warre’s Otima Vs Tesco’s, 10-Year-Old Tawnies

Tawny port was perhaps the one big surprise of
Posted 18th December 2012        

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Tawny port was perhaps the one big surprise of my WSET course last year. Firstly, I’d never heard of it; and, secondly, I found I actually preferred it to regular (or “ruby”) port.

I hadn’t thought anything could be as nice as port. I like port so much I used to drink a bottle a night when I lived in miserable poverty (bordering on desperate squalor) in Upper Clapton, circa 2006ish. I could afford it because it was half price that January – about six quid – following some overbuying on the part of my local Tesco Metro. I basically bought it instead of buying proper food, and lived on spaghetti and tinned tomatoes. It was delicious and irresistible and a bit like the cough syrup I so lusted after as a child that I would regularly feign a sore throat.

Actually I may have made that last bit up; but I did love cough syrup as a child, and rather than taking that hobby into adulthood (like Lil Wayne)  I decided – like so many do – to do the decent (AKA the middle-class) thing and transfer that affection to port.

But tawny port is even better. Partly because you keep it in the fridge, like cough syrup; but mostly because it’s actually a little bit more like a proper drink and less like the unrefined guilty pleasure of an alcoholic uncle. You serve it lightly chilled, and sip it, and say it tastes of nuts: it’s classy.

So with that in mind I thought I’d drink as much of it as possible this Christmas, and started with these two bottles:

1: Tesco’s 10-year-old Tawny Port, currently unavailable on their website (having given up its place to some dubious-looking super-cheap non-vintage version; nobody knows how old it is or isn’t).

2: Warre’s Otima 10 ten-year-old Tawny Port, est 1670, multi-award-winning, posh and you know it because it’s in a 50cl bottle but still costs over a tenner. About £13,50 from Tesco in fact. I got mine from the Co-op, but heaven forbit that I should link to any retailer other than Tesco.

The former came in a mixed case that was, just as it said on the metaphorical tin, pretty mixed. There was an average white wine, a passable (but decidedly slight) bottle of dry sherry, an average Prosecco, a decent-looking sweet wine, and a Bordeaux whose vintage augurs better than that from the other Tesco case which offended my sensibilities just recently.

The port has been the best bit so far; 75 glorious centilitres of cool, rich caramel-coloured class. I showed enormous restraint in only polishing off half of it before our last pre-Christmas guests checked in. It retained the concentrated currantlike quality of your ruby/LBV ports (“normal” port, for those who don’t read labels) but with an added hint of bitter woodiness drowning in vanilla toffee. It was quite frankly lovely and I was not disappointed.

Given that the bottle technically retails at £6.62 (although it is on offer, and you do have to buy some other, lesser, bottles with it), this is damn fine value. Had I to award this a numerical value out of, say, 382, I’d easily give it 329; and given that the value-for-money is a surefire H+ on the VVS (Velky Value Scale), my equations can only lead me to recommend this as having a buyability rating of: VOLCANIC.

Warre’s Multi-Award-Winning Slender-Bottled Optimus-Prime Strix-Aluco Port of Kings is certainly no less delicious. If anything is has a more laid-back almondy texture (no, seriously) and less of the mixed-dried-grapes quality that’s reminiscent of normal (or “inferior”) non-tawny ports, with a bit more candied-peel and honey-roasted-figs. It is a sinewy but gentle lover, with an ear for a lullaby as much as a tongue for yodelling. I’d drink it morning, noon and night if I could justify the expense – and the health implications. But that life (and death) is not one I’ll have the good fortune to live (and die) too soon, so while I’m resident in, or perhaps on, terra firma (AKA Wales), I have to say that – being over £20 per proper bottle size (75cl) – this Warre’s stuff is really only for the snobs.

336 divided by Q- equals SEDIMENTARY. Although, just to clarify, this was not crusted port, and contained no sediment.

I’ll buy it again when I’m feeling snobbish, but when I’m just feeling like I’d like some tawny port I’ll buy the Tesco ten-year-old. Except I won’t, will I? Because it’s only available by the case, with lots of other, lesser, wines. There is the non-vintage suspect £6.50 stuff; but could I possibly return to that after supping the syrupy delights of a wine I know has been gestating in oak for a decade? Since I was a mere slip of a thing? No, I don’t think so.

To conclude: drink more port. Preferably tawny, but let’s not be fussy.


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Meet the Author:
Alexander Velky
Alexander grew up on Anglesey, almost as far away from civilization as he’d have liked. He studied English at university and subsequently moved to Prague to teach it to Czech people for just long enough that he could say he’d done that. He then returned to the UK to do an MA in Professional Writing, and later moved to London by accident and worked in the music industry for a while. His interest in wine has been developing throughout. He took the WSET Intermediate exam, for which he was rewarded with a certificate and a pin badge, but he probably won't bother doing any more. He now lives in Pembrokeshire with his wife and daughter. He writes, and drinks, for a living. You can follow him on Twitter if that's how you choose to spend your time. Photograph by Léonie Keeble