May 16, 2011

Fortified Wine

An afternoon of great wine, fantastic people, unbelievable food, and crappy weather! You just can't have it all.  But that's okay, we held our garden tasting indoors and with Terry's beautiful fresh-cut flowers and a glass of sparking Vouvray for everyone on arrival, the cloudy skies were no match for our will-power.

Today we tasted several distinctly different styles of fortified wine, each a variation of the following general classifications:

Sherry / Maderia / Port Wine

A brief history of the drink:

A common misconception is that fortified wine is a style or taste that was actually meant to exist. But contrary to popular belief, fortifying wine is the lesser of two evils:  In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, explorers and trade ships arriving home with wine from the far reaches of their travels found that the climatic extremes of the long journey played havoc on the freshly fermented juice from abroad.  By the time the ships reached their homeland, the wine had most certainly spoiled. To protect the fragile cargo, future voyages included a supply brandy spirits to mix with the foreign grape juice or freshly made wine.  While the spirits did change the composition of the wine significantly, the dosage also acted as a preservative and depending on when the spirits were added to the barrels also dictated the style of the resultant wine.

It’s all about the sugar content: fortification before the fermentation is finished results in a sweet wine, whereas, adding the spirits after the fermentation is complete i.e. all sugar is converted to alcohol, produces a dry wine.

Each style presents a unique flavour profile and you are encouraged to sample each wine with its provided food pairing.

Below, I've listed the specific wines tasted by the group:

·         Gilbert's, Extra Dry White Porto
·         1990 Kopke, Colheita Port
·         Warre's, Warrior Reserve Port
·         1983 Gould Campbell, Vintage Port
·         Gonzalez Byass,Tio Pepe, Extra Dry, Fino Sherry
·         Nutty Solera, Oloroso Sherry
·         1998 Henriques, Single Harvest Rich Maderia

Gilberts, Extra Dry White Porto
This is good stuff.  White port is best served slightly chilled and this example showed interesting aromas of solvent and spice while the taste was much softer, hinting at pears and apricot.  It's not as dry as the label might suggest and finishes with just a touch of sweetness before you top-up the glass for a second go. 

1990 Kopke, Colheita Port
I must be very honest here, this disappointed me.  I consider myself a connoisseur of Tawny port and I've had much better examples for the same price. The colour was more pinkish than tawny and a bitter orange peel tang that I normally associate with sherry hit me like a wave as I sipped this one.  If you’re in search of a great tawny, try the Graham’s 20 yr instead – fantastic stuff.

Warre's Warrior Reserve Port
This was a crowd pleaser for sure.  With only 4 years in oak, this wine is Vintage-style and shows stewed red fruit and spice on the palate with a great sweetness; thinner than true Vintage but that’s exactly what you expect.  Very nice.

1983 Gould Campbell, Vintage Port
Tons of sediment when decanted before the group's arrival, but great colour, aroma, and body; thick and rich!  Sadly, we only had the one bottle - lovely wine.

Gonzalez Byass, Tio Pepe, Extra Dry Fino Sherry
Not as fresh and uplifting as I played it up to be with the group; good though overall, showing notes of salt water, almond, and sour dough bread. I expected something a bit more captivating; a solid example of the style nonetheless.  

Gonzalez Byass, Nutty Solera, Oloroso Sherry
I believe this type of sherry appeals to people due to its softness and similarity to tawny port; richer bodied than Fino; viscous and nutty but still with that interesting sherry tang. 

1998 Henriques & Henriques, Single Harvest Maderia
There is something about Maderia that draws you in.  Perhaps it’s the image of this once volcanic island and its ships filled with pipes of wine sailing off into the sunset only to return with exactly the same wine having traversed the great sea.  Long ago, the people of Maderia truly believed that by sailing the wine across the Tropics, the product on return would taste significantly better.  I`m not sure about the folklore, but I can certainly attest to the greatness of the wine: this example is chestnut brown and viscous in the glass with aromas of figs, prunes, and orange peel. Rich to taste, not thin like the Rainwater alternative style; thick and concentrated, intensely coats the mouth with stewed black fruit - just one glass is all you need.  Good stuff.

As for a single group favourite, I don't think we can pick just one this time.  It would seem that each of us has a very distinct preference and after listening to everyone’s comments over the course of the afternoon, the wines that I feel stood-out, were the Single Harvest Maderia and the White Port.  I also gather the Fino Sherry was not a hit in terms of style on its own though it did pair incredibly well with Jacquie's French Onion Soup which I will publish the recipe for shortly.  

What makes an event like this a success is the dedication of the group and Jac and I would like to thank everyone for contributing a dish to pair with the wines today.  I don`t think I have ever seen so many sweet treats under one roof – what a great afternoon, thanks again!


Helloooooo Deb.... How`s the wine in China?  :)

1 comment:

  1. I love sherry, it reminds me of when I was young, fart too young to drink. We'd visit my Gran's and the adults would have a drink and my Gran would always give me a (very) small glass of sherry. My parents would always object, but she'd say "nonsense, a drop of sherry never hurt anyone".

    Now sherry always reminds me of gran, happier days and my first feelings of being grown up.


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine