Colheita or Single Harvest Tawny Port. What’s the difference?

Posted 17 October 2023

by Vintage Wine and Port: Ben Read

Colheita or Single Harvest Tawny Port. What’s the difference?


The world of wine is full of terms that can be confusing if you are not familiar with them. Colheita is one such term – one we are often asked about. So what is a colheita Port? The literal translation of the Portuguese term ‘colheita’ is ‘harvest’. The Portuguese have traditionally used the term ‘colheita’ to describe a Port, aged in wooden barrels for 7+ years, that is solely from a single harvest year – all of the grapes used to make the specific wine were harvested in one single year. Hence the more anglicised term ‘single harvest tawny’ that is also sometimes used to describe certain Port wines.

So the simple answer to the question is that there is no difference in the way wines described as ‘colheita’ or ‘single harvest tawny’ are made. Both follow the same process and it is simply a choice for the winemaker in how they choose to describe their wines. The “single harvest” terminology is, perhaps not unsurprisingly, used in the main by the more traditional British owned Port producers, with both Graham’s (who use the term ‘Single Harvest Tawny’) and Taylor’s (who use the term ‘Single Harvest Port’) now predominantly using the term to describe their anniversary year wood-aged Ports. The Portuguese producers have almost universally continued to used the traditional term colheita to describe their products. All of those whose wines we import to the UK on an exclusive basis do so – Burmester, Caves Messias, Palmer, Quevedo, Quinta da Devesa, Quinta das Carvalhas, Sao Leonardo by Quinta do Mourao and J W Hart - simply describe these wines as ‘Colheita’.

The Portuguese also use the term Colheita to describe a white Port made with grapes from a single harvest.

The Difference Between Colheita/ Single Harvest Tawny Port and ‘Tawny Port’

As we delve deeper into the question of what the difference between Colheita and Single Harvest Tawny Port is, so we come to the question of what ‘Tawny Port’ is. The term is used to describe a Port that has been aged in wooden barrels for the majority of its life, only being bottled when it is ready to be sold. By comparison, Vintage Port only spends 2-3 years in wooden barrels before being bottled and Late Bottled Vintage Port (the clue is in its name!) spends 4-6 years in the wooden barrels. To be described as Tawny / Single Harvest Tawny / Colheita, a Port must have spent a minimum of 7 years in wooden casks and it is this process of aging that gives it the sweet, dried fruit and nutty finesse traditionally associated with the style.

The key difference between ‘Tawny Port’ and Colheita / Single Harvest Tawny is blending. A Tawny Port is a blend of vintages. The process of blending allows the winemaker to create a consistent style of Port year after year, by blending wines from different years. It can be sold in a variety of designations, but most commonly seen as 10 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old and 40 years old. Recently, the designations 50 years old and ‘very very old’ have also been approved. A colheita or single harvest tawny port must be Port made using only grapes from the designated harvest year – hence the anglicised term ‘single harvest tawny’ Port. A single harvest tawny, or colheita Port will demonstrate the individual characteristics of that particular vintage. Not every year will result in a wine being produced, but those that are will be something really special. These wines can last for many many years, with new releases of very old colheita Ports often used to mark special events in the winemakers history, or major public events, such as the Graham’s 1952 Single Harvest Tawny that was released in 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in a limited release of individually numbered bottles. After a further decade ageing in cask, Graham’s Head Winemaker, Charles Symington, agreed to release the remaining wine in early 2022 as a very limited release of just seventy bottles (75cl) and several jeroboams (4.5l) to commemorate the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.


Understanding The Wine Label

A traditional vintage Port will have a single year printed on the label – the year the grapes were harvested. But two dates will appear on the label for Colheita / Single Harvest Tawny Ports. Often you will need to look at both the front and back labels to find both dates, so do look carefully. The two dates will be the year the grapes were harvested and the year the Port was bottled. You can see this in the example shown here from our J W Hart range.


Enjoying Colheita / Single Harvest Tawny Ports

These are wines bottle to be enjoyed. Unlike a Vintage Port, they will not continue to develop or improve with age in the bottle. No decanting is required and we recommend serving them just slightly chilled below room temperature.

With the connection to a specific harvest, they make an excellent anniversary gift.