The tour of wine nations has been interrupted this week to bring you this brief mention of fortified wines. What is a fortified wine you ask? As the name indicates, it is a wine, made the same way as a normal run of the mill wine, but then the process changes. When the fermentation is done, or near done, the winemaker adds grape brandy to bring up the level of alcohol. Yeast can only survive at alcohol levels up to 15-18 percent depending on the yeast strain, so by adding alcohol, the yeast dies, fermentation stops, and the wine's Residual Sugar, or sugar that the yeast has not turned into alcohol remains. Obviously, alcohol levels rise, and the wine becomes much more stable, giving it the ability to be aged for a longer time.
The three types of fortified wines that I will write about today are Port, Sherry, and finally we will discuss Madeira.
Port comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and only from there. There are Port style wines that come from other places, but they are most definitely not Port. Despite being made in Portugal, most of the port makers are British, owning back to the 17th century British traders who were cut off from their supply of Bordeaux due to a war with France. The British found that their new "Wine Dealers" did not make wines that traveled well, so they started fortifying the wine with grape brandy to protect it during travel.In 1933 the I.D.V.P (Instituto do Vinho do Porto) was formed to regulate the production of this sacred drink.
The Douro region is the same as the region by a similar name in Spain, and in fact is also on the slopes of the Duero River. It is hot, and hilly with terraced vineyards. The rocky schist soils heat up during the day and produce grapes with high sugar content.
There are 3 lobes to the region, the Baixo Corgo, the Cima Corgo, and the Douro Superior. These regions grow over 48 grape varieties, but the most important are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa (Which has nothing to do with France), Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, Malvasia Fina, Codega, Sousao, and Bastardo. These grapes are fermented in the traditional wine method, and then get dosed with brandy (Beneficio). The Beneficio is a liquor with 77% Abv, and they use it to bring the final Port up to 18-20% abv. By law, no more that 1/3 of a company's port can be released in any single year.
Port comes in a few flavors. First, in great years, Vintage Porto is released. This is the very best port and is all from the growing year listed on the label. This year, the 2011 Ports were released and they received high acclaim. The best wine of the year from 2014 was a 2011 vintage Taylor Fladgate.
There are also White ports made with white grapes or red grapes removed from their skins, that have received recent popularity. They come in both dry and sweet varieties. Sweet white Port will be labeled Lagrima (Tear). Ruby Ports are the least expensive and spend less time on the skins than their darker brothers. Ruby ports come in regular, Vintage Character Port or Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage Port, meaning they age in the barrel rather than the bottle, or Crusting or crusted Port.
Tawny ports are made by blending a ruby and a white port. They come without age designation or with age statements. Age designation usually will dictate that the port has been aged in cask for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. There are also Garrafeiras that are aged in in wood, and then demijohns (Think giant water bottles that sit on top of the water machines in an office). Tawny ports are aged in barrels for at least 7 years in oxidative conditions, taking on a nutty oxidized flavor.
One final note on Port. in England, people pass port around a large table of friends each person taking a bit. If you want more, it is rude to ask, so a person will say, " Do you know the Bishop of Winchester?" Most will know that will quickly pass that person more Port. In the case that one does not know that, the person issuing the statement then will say, "He is an awfully good fellow... but he never passes the Port." I for one would be far more direct.
Sherry is a fortified wine from Andalucia on the southern coast of Spain. in the 1870s it was also a favorite of the British, and as a result was one of the first protected appellations in Spain (1933). Perhaps the best quote about Sherry came from Falstaff who said, "A good Sherry has 2 effects, it goes to your brain, removes the stupid sad thoughts that darkens it, unties your tongue and spirit, then it warms your blood and chases cowardice." Falstaff may have been smart, but he could not count to two.
Sherry is made in 3 towns, Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. the grapes don't have to come from these locations, but the wine must be aged and shipped from here. The two DO designations are Jerez-Xeres- Sherry and Manzanilla-Sanlucar de Barrameda, the later is in a seaside town and produces a Sherry with a higher Salinity as a result.
Sherry is grown in Albariza soils which reflect the sun and are cooler soils, the barros and arenas becoming more sandy progressively. There are also two winds in the region, the Levante or hot winds, and the Poniente or cooler winds. The hot winds help to ripen the grapes, while the Poniente bring humidity good for forming the yeast which help with wine maturity.
There are 3 grapes authorized in the production of Sherry, all are white grapes. They are Palomino (Listan), Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Moscatel. Palomino is a neutral grape that makes borring wines on its own of lo acid table wines, but is 95% of the planted grapes for the production of Sherry. Palomino tends to be highly oxidative. Muscatel and PX grapes are used for sweetening.
Palimino must be pressed quickly after picking to reduce risk of oxidation. A max of 72.5 liters of juice ma bye pressed from 100kg of grapes. The must (mosto de yema) is divided into 3 stages:
1. Primera yema or free run juice
2. Segunda Yema or first press wine
3. Mosto prensa poor quality wine for distillation
Traditional producers added plaster to aid in clarification of the wine. Today, tartaric acid is added and the producers serially rack the wine (Desfangado) to clarify. The wines were traditionally aged in 600l American Oak Butts...ha he said butts. today however most wine makers use temp controlled SS tanks.
The coolest part about Sherry is that it can become many styles, but the maker lets the wine decide what it wants to be. Is that not a romantic notion? There are two divergent paths that each Sherry can take. They can become a Palo or a gordura. Palos are fortified with 15% to 15.5% abv and are styled to become more delicate in style (Called Fino or Manzanilla style Sherry). Mines marked as gordura are fortified with more alcohol at 17 to 18% making bacterial growth (called Flor) impossible and will become Oloroso Sherries.
Both wines are fortified with a mixture of spirits and mature Sherry called Mitad y Mitad, both are transfered to American Oak Sherry Butts... hehe, said butts again. Fino and Manzanilla styles undergo biologic aging, or aging with flor present (See the white bacterial cells floating on the wine in the barrel picture above). Oloroso Sherry undergoes oxidative aging.
The Flor is at the heart of Sherry making, and ultimately determines weather the wine becomes Fino Sherry or in the worst case vinegar. Flor means flower, and in most wine making processes, unwanted organisms ruin wine. In this case, the Flor is a special yeast that comes and stabilizes the glycerin, alcohol and volatile acids in the wine. Flor requires contact with the air, and so it forms a film on the top of the wine that is thick in the spring and fall but thins and greys in the summer and winter. In the past flor was a mystery, now makers have a bit more of a hand in determining the wine's fate. Finos are produced largely from albariza soils and come from the primera yema, whild Olorosos are produce in other soils or come from the segunda yema must.
There are many classifications of Sherry. Palma is a fine delicate Sherry in which the Flor has done well at protecting from oxidation. Palma Cortada is a more robust fino, palo cortado is a rarity. Flor is present, but it also gets an oxidative path. At a certain point the flor will be destroyed on purpose by the cellar master and brought to 17 percent destroying the flor, and allowing for oxidative aging. Raya comes from a fino with a poor flor, further fortification occurs and the wine emerges as a Oloroso. Dos Rayas the for has disappeared but it becomes rough and coarse with high levels of VA. Often these wines become Sherry Vinegar.
Sherry is aged in a Solera (Left). In this system, a third of the wine is removed from the bottom row to be bottled, The wine from the second row (First Criadera or Nursary) then fills the first row, leaving them a third empty. The wine from the second Criadera then replaces the wine from the second. New wine then replaces the wine removed from the top row. In many cases, there has been a mix of wines in this system for hundreds of years. Again, a romantic notion. New wine is constantly mixed with old wine which has been a part of the system forever.
I should mention that sherry comes in many levels of sweetness from bone dry to Pedro Ximenez made from rasinated grapes. this is a sweet dark wine made only from PX grapes aged in the sun, fortified, and then aged in solera. It is cloyingly sweet, but balanced with acid making it a fantastic after dinner wine.
Madera wines are made in the Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa. the islands are pare of portugal, so you can think of this as an Oreo cookie blog with two Portugese wines as cookies and a Cream Sherry filling from Spain. the islands have a warm climate with high humidity. Madeira wines were exceedingly popular in the 17th and 18th century and once again it was the British at the center of its popularity.
In the 18th century, brandy was again added to the wine as a means of protecting it on ships. The East India Trading Company became the biggest distributor picking up pipes of Madeira and shipping it across the ocean. they soon realized that the act of shipping actually improved the wine. This was due to two factors. First, the heat, and second the motion of the ocean.
Most of the island is volcanic and they grow many grape varieties.Bual, Verdelho Malmsey and Sercial must be at least 85% of the grape mix, but they may also contain Bastardo, Moscatel, Terrantex, and Tinta Negra Mole (For cooking).
The grapes are fermented either in Stainless or in wood. In sweeter wines, the grapes (Bual and Malvasia) are fermented on their skins to extract phenols (A bitter compound) to balance the sweetness. Dry wines are made from Sercial, Verdelho and Tinta Negra Mole are separated from their skins prior to fermentation.
Madeira is special and different because of how it is aged. It is aged in hot and oxidative conditions. There are 3 methods for doing this. The first is the cheapest method called Cuba de Calor. The wine is put in SS tanks and heated with piping or coils that allows hot water to circulate. the wine is heated for a minimum of 90 days to temperatures as high as 130 degrees. Sometimes the wine caramelizes leading to a burnt and bitter flavor. After the heating in the "Estufa" the wine is allowed to cool and rest for 3 months, and then it is transferred to wooden barrels for aging.
The second method is the Armazen de Calor Estufagem. In this method, the wine is placed in wooden cask in a room like a sauna. Steam heats the room and gently exposes the wine to heat. The wine is then allowed to cool for 3 months (Estagio) and then transferred to wooden casks to be aged.
The best method is the Canteiro Estufagem method. The casks are aged in the sun (See picture above). the beam they are resting on is called the canteiro. These wines are far more fruity then wines of other methods namely because they do not caramelize. However, the heating process takes a lot longer. For every 3 months in estufa, the canteiro method requires 5 years to obtain the same results. By this method, heating may take anywhere from 20 to 100 years. Therefore patience is a virtue.
Madeira must have at least 85% noble grape, and be aged for a long time. Riserve must be aged a min of 5 years, Special Reserve 10 years and be without artificial heat, extra reserve over 15 years, colheita or harvest will indicate the year of harvest and must say Colheita on the label, Frasqueria or vintage must be aged 20 years. There is one last style that is worth mentioning called rainwater. This is a lighter style usually served before a meal made from verdelho or Tinta Negra Mole in which water is added after vinification and aging.