Oh, it’s that time of year again where winter is now in full swing. The holidays are over, it’s getting colder (again), and now is the time to put on even more layers of winter clothing.
Even though we spend a lot of time complaining about the winter season here, there is still something quite endearing about it. We have an excuse to stay at home and cozy by the fireplace or spend as much time (and money) on the slopes, eat hearty meals (because a salad will not do when it’s -20 outside) and it’s the time of year when port is most enjoyable to consume.
There is a lot to enjoy with port, but what if we expand our horizons, and explore more fortified wines that are just as good as warming us up in the winter, and even some that will quench your thirst during the summer!
What is a fortified wine?
Fortified wine is a style of wine in which fermentation is stopped by the addition of a neutral wine based spirit (typically brandy or eau de vie). They can range from dry to sweet, depending on the style. In order to create the desired sweetness, the winemaker chooses when to add the spirit to the fermenting wine; If the winemaker is aiming to create a sweeter wine, they’ll add the spirit early on in the fermentation process, for a dryer style, they’ll add the spirit later.
Styles of Fortified Wine
Most people will know Port and Sherry, but there are a few more additions to make. Madeira, Marsala (which unfortunately we will not be tasting this evening), Pineau de Charentes, Macvin and Vermouth all fall within the Fortified category, with each style bringing a unique character to the equation.
Let’s start with the one everyone is familiar with. Port is a style of fortified wine that was famous because of the quarreling relationship between the French and the British. “In 1667 Colbert, the first minister of Louis XIV embarked on a series of measures to restrict the import of English goods into France. This provoked Charles II of England into increasing the duty on French wines and later forbidding their import altogether, obliging the English wine trade to seek alternative sources of supply.” (Fladgate) The English ended up in Oporto, a port city based in the Douro Valley. Even though the British were not keen on the light, fresh wines of the coast, they were very much fans of the heavy, bolder reds coming from the Douro Valley. It is believed that the wines were not created to sustain time at sea, and thus the addition of brandy became a preserving agent for the wines and creating what we know as port.
Port is a highly regulated item, with there only selected areas of the Douro Valley are permitted in the production of port, and with only select grapes making the cut. There are many different styles of port that I will not get into in this post, but if you do want to learn more, I’ll attach a link at the bottom of this post!
For our example of port this evening, we are tasting the Taylor Fladgate 20-year-old Tawny that was specially bottled for Kensington Wine Market’s 25th Anniversary. Approved by the Port Wine Institute, as all things Port must be, we are just tickled port to be able to offer this special bottle to all of our loyal customers. The colour is bright and lively amber showing characteristic brown caramel tones on the rim. The nose offers dry white raisins and stewed prunes with brandied cherries and dark chocolate. The taste is lovely and subtle, good acidity, some nice walnut hues, and picks up on the Christmas cake spice theme.
A wine that is in need of more love! Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in England where old grannies sat at the pub with sweet, cheap, cream sherry, so I know what reputation sherry has had in the past. But I promise you, that is the WORST OF THE WORST, and sherry has so much to offer!!
Sherry comes from the region of Jerez (Anglican pronunciation being ‘sherry’) in southwestern Spain, where Sherry is produced in the ‘sherry triangle’, located between the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. Grapes can only be sourced from this area in order to create sherry and is an area where the soil is unique, aiding towards the character of sherry. The soil is composed of marine deposits, limestone, and clay, creating these beautiful infertile vineyards (don’t worry, it’s a good thing!)
(Albariza, Barros And Arenas)
Sherry, too, comes in an array of styles, from the bone-dry manzanilla to the lusciously sweet PX. Because everyone has tried sweet fortified wine, I thought it was best to pour a manzanilla tonight, showing you a style of fortified wine that can be enjoyed during the short months of summer.
“Manzanilla is a dry white wine made from Palomino grapes and aged under a layer of yeasts know as veil de flor. It is produced exclusively in the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The special climatic conditions of the town, situated at the mouth of the river Guadalquivir, favour the formation of a special kind of veil of flor which gives the wine its uniquely distinctive characteristics.”(Manzanilla) For this evenings example of sherry, I decided to pour the La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry. It’s one of our favourites here at KWM, and once you try it, you’ll understand why with notes of walnuts and dried lemon peel that show a salty tang through the finish
It is a life-changing wine style. No longer will you think about the stupidly sweet cream sherries your grandmother always has, you will be craving a glass of manzanilla when it reaches 30 degrees outside.
If you want to learn more about sherry, I’ve attached a link below! **
Madeira is a wine of the sea. Created only on the island of Madeira, located off the coast of Morocco, this Portuguese region is famous for its fortified wines. Since wines spoiled at sea, wine producers decided to preserve the wines with the addition of brandy, to make sure their wines survived their voyage. Since most of these voyages were to the Americas or East Indies, the wines would heat and cool through the tropics. Some noticed the complexity this added to the wine, calling it Vinho da Roda, or sea-ageing. Since then, Madeira is known for its unique characteristics that are developed during this heating and cooling process.
There are many different styles of Madeira, but unfortunately, we only have a chance to taste on this evening. (I’ve attached a link at the bottom if you want to learn more***)
Tonight I decided to pour the Blandy’s Bual 5-year-old Madiera. Bual is a medium sweet style of Madeira that is extremely aromatic and flavourful. Its a wine filled with notes of coffee, walnut fig, butter cocoa, and golden raisins. A perfect wine for dessert.
I needed an excuse to pour some vermouth. Vermouth, even though most famously used in Martinis, is a fortified wine, and something people need to drink more of! It’s perfect as an aperitif and as a digestif and gives you a mouthful of flavours.
Vermouth, coming from the German word for wormwood vermut, is a style of fortified wine that is also aromatized with botanicals. It has origins in Italy and France, with more of the modern style of vermouth being created in Turin, Italy. There are two styles traditional styles; dry and sweet, but with modern demand, we have seen other styles added to vermouth repertoire.
Given that many haven’t had much experience with vermouth as its own drink, I decided to pour two this evening, one white and one that is more of a traditional style.
For the white vermouth, we have the Dogliotti 18/70 Vermouth that is created with the muscat grape. This vermouth is coming from Turin, Italy where it was created by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The Muscat grape was seen as perfect, where the natural sweetness and aromatics would help bring together the unique flavours of the botanicals. Given the natural sweetness of the grape, there is no need for the addition of sugar. Its a vermouth that starts out with the sweet hint of Moscato, with lemon and lychee dancing on the tongue, to the notes of botanicals swimming through to create a touch of a bitter finish. Great vermouth to start your journey with. It’s not too sweet, not too bitter, and would make as a great aperitif.
For the more traditional vermouth, there is no other greater than Carpano Antica Formula. Coming from a production where the origins begin with Antonio B. Carpano, this vermouth is something to be cherished. Starting as white grapes from Puglia, Sicily, and Romagna, the wine must is then aromatized with a secret blend of botanicals (including vanilla) to create its unique complexity. It shows more of a light brown hue, with notes of vanilla with spicy, citrusy and dried fruit notes of almond, raisins, and cloves. Seriously, grab yourself a bottle.
Pineau des Charentes
Pineau is a style of fortified wine that is fortified with the addition of cognac eau de vie (fancy right?). It comes from Charentes, France where it is seen as an aperitif. Pineau is not alone, there are many different styles, such as Armagnac and Macvin (which we will also be trying tonight), but I decided to showcase Pineau because Chateau de Montifaud is a fantastic producer in the Cognac region, and their pineau is delicious!
Typically Pineau is created with the unfermented or lightly fermented grape must of Colombard, Ugni Blanc and/or Folle Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and then is aged for up to 18 months in barrels. This created a product that is deep gold in colour, typically with some sweetness but a nice bright acidity to balance out the sweetness. In this particular example of Pineau, it is created with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, resulting in a red style of Pineau. Because it is created with unfermented/light-fermented grape must, Pineau shows some very traditional characteristics to the grapes used in the blend, with the addition of some oxidative, oak spice notes. This Chateau de Montifaud Pineau des Charentes Rouge shows a touch of sweetness with vibrant notes of red and dark berries, vanilla, spice and finishing with a touch of nuttiness.
Most will not of heard of the Jura region in France, and thus, I had to include this gem in tonight’s tasting. Jura is the home to some amazing things, such as Vin Jaune, Comte, and Savagnin. It is also an area that hasn’t followed worldwide wine trends, and thus creating wines that are unique, obscure and delicious!
This is another style of Vin de liqueur (or Mistelle) originating from the region of Jura, in the Eastern reaches of France. Macvin has been produced for over six centuries, using all five varietals of the Jura region (Chardonnay, Savagnin, Poulsard, Pinot Noir and Trousseau). Typically Mavin is white and is fortified with eau-de-vie that is created by the same producer making the macvin. The liqueur sits in barrels from 12 months before release, creating a wine that is sweet with a hint of oak spice, and a touch of nutty character.
Champ Divin is an organic production in the Jura region of France. Champ Divin’s Macvin Blanc spirit is distilled in-house and aged at least two years before blending. The result? A classy, unusual aperitif that will be just as interesting after dinner, too.
Fortified wine isn’t just port and sherry. There are so many more options to explore, and I would highly advise starting with the list above. It is a beautiful thing that needs more love, and Port needs to stop hogging all the attention.
Hopefully, this short little introduction into fortified will give you enough momentum to explore more, and if you need any help, we are always here to lend a helping hand!
Thank you again for everyone who attended this evening, and a big THANK YOU to Peasant Cheese for creating some beautiful cheese and charcuterie trays for us!
* Port Link!
Picture from SherryNotes.com by Ruben: “Albariza, Barros And Arenas”. Sherry notes: Sherry Blog, News And Reviews Of Sherry Wines From Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, 2019, https://www.sherrynotes.com/2014/background/albariza-soil-barros-arenas/. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.
“Manzanilla”. Sherry Wines, 2019, https://www.sherry.wine/sherry-wine/dry-sherry/. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.
Fladgate, Taylor. “The Birth Of Port – Taylor Fladgate”. Taylor.Pt, 2019, https://www.taylor.pt/us/what-is-port-wine/history-of-port/the-birth-of-port. Accessed 5 Jan 2019.