We’re not drinking as many fortifieds as we used to. Shame, as they provide some of wine’s most complex taste sensations.
Old men with gout drinking pints of port…Maiden aunts offering the vicar a glass of sweet sherry from a dusty bottle…Get rid of these images, fortified wines have plenty to offer the modern wine drinker.
Light, fresh and dry, or intense and syrupy sweet, there are many different styles of fortified wines, and while they may not be as popular as they once were, the quality is higher than ever.
Fortification of wines originated to preserve wines in warm climates, or to stabilize them for long sea journeys – the brandy kills off yeasts and bacteria. In port, the fortification takes place halfway through fermentation, so the wines are sweet (more unfermented sugar).
Tawny ports spend lengthy periods in barrels, softening as they age to a nutty raisinny maturity. Ruby ports, of which vintage port is the pinnacle, are bottled younger and fresher, and the best can last for decades. Sherries are usually fermented to dryness, then fortified.
Sweeter styles are achieved by blending in either sweet wine or grape juice. Madeira comes in varying levels of sweetness, from Sercial (the driest), through Verdelho and Bual, to sticky-sweet Malmsey. Australia’s greatest fortified is Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat, often described as Liquid Christmas Pudding.
Once opened, most bottles of sherry should be polished off the same day – and served well chilled.
What is vin doux naturel?
Fortified wine from France – examples include Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and Banyuls.