Port & other fortified wines
Some of the longest living wines made are fortified. The three main areas of fortified wine making is the Douro for Port, Jerez for Sherry and Madeira for Madeira. The common theme with all fortified wines is that a grape spirit is added after fermentation, which lifts the alcohol to around 20%.
Port – coming from the beautiful Douro valley in Portugal is normally a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz. Port is made in two differing styles – bottle aged ports and barrel aged ports. Bottle aged ports are those of Vintage Ports and Single Quinta Vintage Ports. These wines spend a short period of time in barrel, normally around 2 years and then do most of their ageing in the bottle, when young the wines are full of fruit, with broad shouldered tannins. Once mature, they are soft, elegant and beautifully structured. Barrel aged ports, such as Tawny and Colheita spend much longer in barrel and indeed in the case of Colheita and aged Tawny they can mature in cask for many many years. These ports tend to be nuttier, lighter and a little less sweet, a great way to serve them is slightly chilled with pudding – delicious!
The centre of Sherry making is the southern Spanish town of Jerez. The main styles of Sherry produced are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso. Sherry starts life as a still white wine and after the adding of grape spirit it is aged in a unique way with a Solera being used. This is the practice of the Sherry’s being aged in a number of barrels each being topped up with a younger wine as the finished wine is tapped out. Whether the wine aged under a film of yeast, called a flor determines the style and name of the sherry. Fino’s and Manazanilla’s are aged under a flor and this gives them a freshness and crispness, the main difference between the two is that Manzanilla is made in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. If the flor doesn’t develop on a Fino then it is named an Amontillado, and if the flor is suppressed by human hand the wine is labelled Oloroso. These wines are darker and richer than Fino’s and Manzanilla’s.
Madeira – a Portuguese island off the north west coast of Africa has a long and rich wine making history. The wines made there can range from the wonderfully crisp and dry Sercial to the rich and robust Malmsey. Similar to Sherry the wines start of life as dry table wines and after fortification they enter another unique way of ageing, the Estufagem process. This is essentially heating the wines and represents the long voyages the wines spend in the holds of ships in the 17th Century, creating Madeira. The main styles of Madeira that range from dry to sweet are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malmsey - these are also make up the noble grapes varieties. Now however, most Madeira’s are made from one grape – Tinta Negra Mole. There are also three levels of quality – Reserve, which has been aged for up to five years. Special Reserve – 10 years and Extra Reserve – 15 years. Occasionally, they can be from a specific harvest or Colheita – these are amongst the rarest Madeira’s.