Distinguishing Tawny & Port Wines

British people first discovered Port wine in the 17th century. Also known as fortified wine or simply Porto, it originates from the Douro Valley in Portugal. Port is a sweet, red wine, often considered a dessert among wines. Although this type of wine can be produced in many other parts of the world, only the product made in the specified region in Portugal is labeled as Port, similar to Tequila in Mexico and Cognac in France. Another wine called Tawny often causes confusion, as it is commonly found on tables at parties and conferences. This confusion arises due to the many similarities between Tawny and Port. This article aims to highlight the differences between these two types of wines.

Port wine is created much like all other wines. The only difference between port and other wines is that it is the name given to wine produced in the Douro valley of Portugal. Grape varieties grown in this valley are known to produce dense and concentrated juice. These grape varieties give the wine its unique flavor and aroma, making it Port wine. The best varieties of red grapes used to make port wine in Portugal are Tourica Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cao, Tinta Barroca, etc., but in total, there are 30 different red grape varieties used in making Port wine. Only the best grapes are taken to the winery in trays, where they are de-stemmed, and some are also rejected by the wine maker. Selected grapes are placed in large, thigh-deep tanks called lagares and trodden by foot to crush the grapes. In the second stage, treaders walk freely individually in the tanks. Treaders use wooden plungers to keep the grape skins submerged under the juices to allow the fermentation process. Instead of manual treading, there is also a process of mechanical extraction of juices from the grapes.

During fermentation, when nearly half of the natural sugar of the juices is eaten away by the yeast and converted into alcohol, the fortification process begins. The grape skins that were pushed down are now allowed to come to the surface to form a solid layer. The fermenting wine under this layer is poured into a vat, and around one-third by volume of brandy is added to it, which raises the strength of the wine so much that yeast can no longer survive in it. This means that some natural sweetness of grapes remains in the fortified wine. This wine is then taken to ageing casks, where it turns into different types of aged wines.


Port wines are aged in two different ways called reductive and oxidative ageing. When they are aged in sealed glass bottles with no contact with air, it is called reductive ageing, and the wine loses its color in a very slow manner, and the wine thus produced is smoother in texture and flavor. Ageing in wooden barrels allows exposure to air, thus being called oxidative ageing. Color loss is faster, and the wine obtained is also thicker. Tawny ports are wines that are aged in wooden barrels. Oxidation and evaporation make these wines golden brown in color and impart a nutty flavor to them. Tawny is sweet and used as a dessert wine. When you receive a bottle labeled Tawny only, you can assume that it has spent around 2 years in wooden barrels. However, there can be Tawny ports aged for 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years in wooden barrels.

Key Takeaways

  • Tawny is a type of Port wine.
  • Tawny has a nutty flavor that is a result of oxidative ageing in wooden barrels, while the port is wine made exclusively in an area of Portugal.
  • The major difference between port and tawny lies in the ageing period.
Dmitri Ivanov
Dmitri Ivanovhttps://whats-different.com
Dmitri Ivanov, a writer and managing editor, was educated in Canada and holds a BS in Science. Dmitri loves doing research, writing, and teaching various courses.


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