It’s August, all those rosés are starting to taste the same, and you are itching for something different. Here’s a suggestion that may give you pause: Try a chilled tawny port. Yes, tawny ports are sweet dessert wines, and fortified wines to boot (meaning they have been topped with brandy). But as they have long known in Portugal, where port originates, a sweet, high-alcohol wine on a sultry, sweat-on-the-back-of-your-neck day is just right.
Tawny ports are ports that have received extended – and we do mean extended – aging in wooden barrels. Some of these wines spend decades in casks before being put on the market. Because the wood is slightly porous, the wines experience gentle oxidation; over time, their color goes from deep red, almost purple, to amber, and the aromas are transformed, as well; a tawny port will typically show a strong dried fruit note and a pronounced nuttiness. Tawnies come in four main varieties: 10-year, 20-year, 30-year, and 40-year. These are not precise ages, just approximations; tawnies are blends of multiple vintages, and the idea is to create wines whose flavors are consistent with the age indicated on the label. Tawny ports are sensational dessert wines and pair exceedingly well with fireplaces on bitter winter nights. But put that same bottle in the fridge on a summer afternoon, and you will have an excellent starter wine for that evening. The cooler temperature mutes the alcohol, and the sweetness seems almost refreshing. For true bliss, serve the chilled tawny with some salted nuts.
We’re big fans of the wines of Taylor Fladgate, which is probably the most celebrated port producer of all. In addition to its legendary vintage ports, Taylor is renowned for the quality of its tawnies. We think the Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny is ideal for aperitifs; there is still a trace of youth to its color (ruby) and its aroma (slightly grapey), yet it has that deliciously mellow quality which comes from extended barrel maturation and that makes tawny port such a singular pleasure. You could also try the Taylor 20 Year Old Tawny; it has much more mature flavors, but also fares well when chilled. Some people go the cocktail route and put their tawnies on the rocks; it is further testament to how surprisingly versatile these wines are. [$30; wine.com]