Fortified wine is perhaps the world’s most fascinating but at the same time the most misunderstood category. We have all heard the stories that Sherry is what your grandmom used to sip, and Port is only for British noblemen. Nonsense!
As we approach the year 2020, I think it’s safe to say that you don’t have to be an earl nor a duke to enjoy the wonders of these magnificent wines. Fortified wine often gets overshadowed by nearly every other wine in the world, as a topic that is. As a drink, fortified wines are second to none due to their overwhelming ability to deliver consistent complexity.
The world of fortified wine is slow, and it requires Jedi-like patience to make something worth mentioning. In this fast-paced world, wine preferences change daily, and people opt for whatever is trendy at the moment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the way we are wired, I guess. But that is the reason why I think fortified wines might get overlooked.
Drinkability is a priced asset in wine these days. Some argue that due to the higher alcohol content in fortified wines, drinkability goes out of the window. Yes, unless the goal is to get horribly drunk, fortified wines are best enjoyed in smaller quantities. However, that doesn’t make these wines any less good. Everything is not meant to be enjoyed in excess. I throw “less is more” out there if it weren’t so obvious.
There are great fortified wines made around the world from Portugal to Australia. Many of these would deserve mention, like the utterly delicious Marsala or Australian Rutherglen Muscat, but here are a few of my favorites to get you started. Luckily there is a lot more to discover.
Cazes Banyuls Traditionnel
In Roussillon, southern France, where the Catalan Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean, there is a fortified wine that is a longtime favorite of mine. Banyuls is not as well-known as Port or Sherry, but those know it can’t get enough to satisfy their Banyuls cravings. Cazes Banyuls Traditionnel is aged outside in glass demijohns for 30 months, which gives the wine a robust aroma profile of dried fruits with a toasted nutty finish.
Lustau Peninsula Palo Cortado Sherry
It’s fascinating that the somewhat bland Palomino grape can create something this complex. This Palo Cortado is dry, delicate, and powerful. A proper Sherry is a versatile food wine. Jerez de la Frontera is a treasure trove of fortified wines that have endured the test of time.
Taylor's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Port wine is loved by many and for a good reason. There is nothing quite so enticing and soul-warming than a glass of Port. Whether you enjoy the bright fruit and intensity of a Vintage Port or the nuances of an aged Tawny, there is something for us all. The good thing is that there are no right or wrong answers; you can enjoy both Ruby and Tawny Ports. Taylor's 20 Year Old Tawny Port offers some great value, as do many of the 20-year-old Tawnies, and is a guaranteed showstopper at a dinner party.
Blandy's 5 Year Old Bual Madeira
Madeira, the vinous jewel of the Atlantic, makes wines so crazy delicious that it doesn’t even make sense. The small subtropical island has barely any space for cultivating wine, yet somehow this tiny spot of land manages to produce wines that can outlive them all. When you see a vineyard sharing space with banana trees, you wonder how is it possible to make quality wine here, not to mention wine than can effortlessly age for century or more. Blandy's 5 Year Old Bual Madeira is a bucketful of toasty, rich fruit, fresh acidity, and a medium-sweet finish. A tasty Madeira for all occasions.