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Cálem 10-Year-Old Tawny Port Wine

Review: Cálem 10 Year Old Tawny Port Wine  86/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published August 29, 2012

Much to my surprise, even though I had been occasionally indulging myself with the Cálem Ruby Port for a few years now, I found while I was doing a little research, that Cálem is pronounced “CAH-laign” not “KAY-lem” as I had previously assumed. This Port wine is (of course) produced from red grapes grown in the Douro Valley of Portugal.

Although the Port wine is red when it begins to age, tawny Port wines are aged in oak barrels which allows certain chemical reactions including oxidation to take place. The result is that the wine obtains the tawny brown colour for which it is named. Although this is a declared 10-year-old Port wine, I should caution the reader that age statements for Tawny Ports are not the same as age statements for Cognac and whisky. For this style of wine, there are official age categories of 10 Years, 20 Years, 30 Years and 40 Years; but these categories are not meant to represent the youngest wine in the blended Port. Nor do they represent an average age (although this is a very close approximation). Instead these age statements represent a blended age profile. The Cálem 10-Year-Old Tawny is therefore blended to have a taste profile representative of a 10-year-old Port wine, but the actual ages of the wines in the blend are subject to the blender’s skill in achieving a balanced taste profile each year.

I came upon the chance to review this particular Cálem Port quite by accident. When Woodman Wines and Spirits learned I was looking for a suitable aged Tawny Port in my mad desire to construct a “Millionaire Punch”. They suggested that they could send me a bottle of the Cálem 10 Year to help the recipe’s construction. The Cálem Tawny had all of the characteristics I was looking for, and so I agreed to receive the bottle. Since I would not need the entire bottle for my punch recipe, I decided I would review this wine here on my website as well. Now, I am not positive about this, but I believe Woodman Wines and Spirits advised me that only 75 cases of the Cálem 10 Year Old Tawny Port are available in Ontario at the LCBO. So if you want to seek out at least bottle or two, my suggestion is that you act reasonably quickly.

In case you are wondering, my “Millionaire Punch” was an unmitigated disaster, and I regret that 4 oz of this wonderful Port Wine was subjected to my dreadful experiment.

In the Bottle 4/5

I have indicated in the past that I am not particularly enamored with the average bottle presentation for Port Wines. They all look so similar to me. The Cálem 10 Year Old Tawny represents the same trend. I think perhaps, that the wine houses in Portugal feel that their name alone is sufficient to garner the attention of the consumer. And perhaps they are right within their current major markets. But, I do not live in one of these major markets for Port Wine, and even my friends who occasionally drink aged Port do not really have a very firm grasp of the differences in style between the different Port Wine Houses. A little pizzazz on the bottle and a little more history on the label would go a long way in pushing my friends and I to buy one brand over another. The Cálem 10-Year-Old Tawny does provide some basic information on the bottle, that it is a 10-year-old tawny port, and that it is bottled at 20 % alcohol by volume.

But I’ll be honest, the shelf presentation is not what I would call inspiring.

In the Glass 22/25

I should point out that for myself, wine is a much more aromatic experience than is distilled spirits. For this reason I place a much higher emphasis on the aroma in the glass than I do for spirits like rum and whisky. For this particular port wine, after I poured myself a glass, I allowed my Port wine to breathe for 5 minutes prior to beginning my examination.

In the glass, the tawny port exhibits a rich aroma of dry fruit, (prunes, dates and raisins) and brown sugary baking spices (Vanilla, cinnamon and Demerara sugar). I also notice some nice fresh fruit scents welling up which remind me of blackberries, fresh BC cherries and red currant. A few freshly bitten dark plums, some ripe raspberry, and a touch of coffee and chocolate round out the breezes above my glass. This is very nice.

In the Mouth   43/50

The Port wine is moderately sweet leading out with fresh cherry and ripe raspberry flavours. Along with that fresh taste of ripe berries, some darker dry fruit appears (raisins and figs) with a few hints of oak, toffee and cocoa. There is a light tannic bitterness present which appeals to me a lot, as the Port wine puckers my mouth just slightly opening my palate to the onrush of fresh fruit and berries. The Cálem 10 Year Tawny Port, despite its age, is youthful in the mouth, bursting with vitality.

My only complaint regarding this Port wine was that I found these wonderful flavours had very little staying power. My bottle began to taste much different on day 2. The vitality of the fresh fruit and berries had disappeared replaced by a much drier port full of raisins and grape skins. The flavours of skins and raisins increased each day until I finished the bottle on day 7. Usually my Port wines keep their vitality longer than this, and the lack of staying power is keeping the scores down a little.

In The Throat 13/15

The freshly opened Cálem has a lovely finish bursting with fresh raspberries and BC cherries which fades slowly revealing layers of sweet dry fruit and Demerara sugar. The Cálem which was in my refrigerator for more than one day was much less appealing, so I advise you to consume your bottle in one sitting or to get yourself one of those handy bottle pumps which remove the air from an opened bottle before you put it away for the evening,

The Afterburn 4/5

My cold room is full of Late Bottle Vintage Ports, (both filtered and unfiltered) as well as a few Ruby Ports and German Rieslings. But, until now I really had not wanted to add any Tawny Ports to my wine selection. I like the youthful exuberance of the sweeter LBV and Ruby Ports. However, I have now found a Tawny Port which will be a welcome add to the selection. The Cálem 10 Year Old Tawny has all of that youthful exuberance which I seek in a good dessert wine.

I would have scored this wine much higher (in the 90s for sure) if the fresh vitality of the wine had more staying power, but having said that, the freshly opened bottle is so good that my score still reached 86.

If you are interested in some comparative reviews, here is a link to all of my Port Wine Reviews!


Note: My Wine Scores are computed in the same manner as my scores for distilled spirits. This means that my total score out of 100 is generally lower than what you would see in popular wine rating magazines. (Those magazines appear to have a system which scores almost all wines at 85 points or more.)

My system is described below and you may (loosely) interpret my scores as follows:

0-25     A wine with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    A mediocre wine which will excite no one.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, still rather unexciting.
80-84    Enjoyment begins here.
85-89    Very good to excellent!
90-94    You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this one yet…but I want to.

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