Fortified Wine. Port, Sherry, Madeira, Vins Doux Naturels, to name the chief protagonists. High in alcohol. Some sweet, some bone dry. A myriad of different styles from a host of different wine producing regions. Some young and fruity, others decades old and fascinatingly complex. Some even capable of outliving the human lifespan!
So when I began revising for my WSET® Level 4 Diploma exam on the subject I knew that the information that I would need to understand would be both extensive and intriguing.
In the Douro Valley in Portugal for example, many producers use robotic lagares, which are a mechanised way of simulating the treading of grapes by foot. Whilst the ruby red slush of grape juice and skins is fermenting it is combined with a proportion of high-strength grape spirit, which kills the fermenting yeasts and stops the fermentation, increasing the alcoholic strength and leaving an amount of residual sugar in the wine, which is why all red Port is sweet.
The city of Jerez de la Frontera however, in the Spanish region of Andalucia, is the home of Sherry, which for wine aficionados is one of the most heinously underrated wine styles on the planet. Here the fortification, or strengthening, most often takes place when the wine has been fermented to dryness, and if the winemaker wishes to create a sweeter style he may add a sweetening agent at a later point. So there are various styles available, from bone-dry tangy finos and manzanillas (perfect with olives on a hot summer evening), to sweet Cream sherries (which were ‘all the rage’ in Britain in the 1970’s). And somewhere in between you find your amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos, each brimming with nutty flavours as a result of differing lengths of time spent ageing oxidatively in wooden casks.
So interesting stuff if you have an interest in wine.
The exam went reasonably well (I touch wood as I write) and some time this month the WSET® will issue my result. I found learning about Fortified Wines extremely enjoyable, and would certainly recommend anyone to try a dry Sherry or Madeira if they are looking for something different as an aperitif. Ok, we are rarely asked to supply these kinds of wines to Superyachts, but students on our WSET® courses will certainly come across them.
The irony is of course, that many of these wines would not have been discovered had they not required fortification in order to survive long periods of time rolling around in the hulls of ships!