Simple by definition but complex in nature, fortified wines have a reputation for bewildering the vino-curious. The styles can range from crisp and dry to viscously sweet, from nutty and saline to prune-y and spicy. With just a bit of groundwork, you can be on your way to enjoying the ethereal experience of fino sherry alongside spiced nuts, or savouring the fruity dramatics of an LBV Port dancing with a dark chocolate truffle.
The styles can range from crisp and dry to viscously sweet, from nutty and saline to prune-y and spicy.
But first, some clarity: To fortify a wine is to add a distilled spirit (usually, but not always, grape spirit). Historically, “fortification” allowed wines to last across lengthy sea voyages without spoiling; pleasingly, it also augments alcohol content (upwards of 20 per cent) and allows for flavour development and complexity.
Choosing when to add the spirit determines whether the wine will be dry or sweet—adding it before fermentation is complete leads to a sweeter, stronger wine; adding it afterward will create a drier one.
Different methods of storing and aging will also yield different results. Stainless steel, for instance, can preserve fruit flavours, while oak casks can add spicy or nutty oxidative profiles. Additionally, some styles are enhanced with botanicals making for an herbaceous elixir.
Wine regions around the world have trademark styles and it is this assortment of place, grape variety and production that carves diversity. Here are three international classic styles to get your fortified foundation underway (see below for a sampling of B.C.-made fortifieds):
• Port (Duoro Valley, Portugal) is full-bodied and quite sweet, enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert wine. Styles range across ruby, tawny, vintage and white port. LBV (late bottle vintage) is ready to drink off the shelf.
• Sherry (Jerez de la Frontera, Spain) comes in many styles. Fino is light, dry and saline, while oloroso is aged, oxidized and rich. Great with nuts, olives and cheeses.
• Vermouth (Italy and France) is aromatized with herbs and spices and available in sweet (red) and dry (white) styles. Most commonly produced and drunk in Italy and France as aperitifs (as you should), it is also an essential ingredient in martinis and other classic cocktails.
• OCP Narrative Fortified Syrah & Merlot
(Summerland, $44.90): Bright acidity, red fruit, spice.
• La Frenz Liqueur Muscat
(Penticton, $21.65): Dried apricots, Earl Grey tea, rose petals.
• Odd Society Spirits Bittersweet Vermouth
(East Vancouver, $22): Intense, bittersweet, orange spice.
• Quails’ Gate 2014 Fortified Vintage Foch
(West Kelowna, $25.99): Rich, black cherry, smoke.
• Vista D’oro Walnut Wine
(Langley, $39.50): Spice, cherry, green walnuts.
@ Vitis Magazine