Fortified wines offer a sweet ending to meals
FARGO - Grandma might pull out a bottle of sweet cream sherry.The thought of that thick, sweet sip is cringe-inducing, right?But this is not your grandma's sherry. Or port or Madeira.Fortified wines that are complex, and yes, still sweet, are mak...
FARGO - Grandma might pull out a bottle of sweet cream sherry.
The thought of that thick, sweet sip is cringe-inducing, right?
But this is not your grandma's sherry. Or port or Madeira.
Fortified wines that are complex, and yes, still sweet, are making a slow comeback as after-dinner drinks.
Although port has always been the most familiar and popular fortified wine, sherry and Madeira have recently started to become trendy in bigger markets, like Minneapolis and Chicago, says Nikki Berglund, owner of Luna Fargo and proprietor and wine manager of Bernie's Wines and Liquors here.
Fortified wine has spirits, like brandy, added at the beginning, during or after the fermentation process. Spirits up the alcohol content and slow fermentation, resulting in a naturally sweet wine that's typically served after dinner.
"They are a thing of the past, definitely, but the phrase 'everything old becomes new again' definitely applies here. We don't see them around here too often yet, but just wait," Berglund said.
She's seen more people requesting sherry and Madeira at Bernie's, and the store sells a good deal of port, too. At Luna, people like ordering a glass of port with Stilton cheese or a chocolate dessert.
Although she hasn't experienced much demand for fortified wines, sommelier Jean Taylor of Mezzaluna in Fargo hopes they're becoming trendy again.
"As I've learned more about them, I think they're great and I like having them with dessert or with a cigar just as an after-dinner drink. It's a nice little treat," she said.
We asked Berglund and Taylor to share the basics of fortified wine since it's new to many people or reminds them of a not-so-great tasting experience.
"I know people are a little afraid of sherry, particularly, because it's gotten a bad association. You know, you think of your grandma's sweet cream sherry, which isn't a quality drink," Taylor said. "I think the issue is not understanding. There's so many different styles, what are you going to pick, what are you going to do? But it's fun to have fortified wine; I enjoy it myself."
Types of fortified wines
While there are variations within the major types depending on grapes, years, aging process, blends, etc., Taylor breaks down the most popular types of fortified wines. An enjoyable bottle of fortified wine can cost as little as $16.
• Ports: Made from grapes grown in the Douro region of Portugal. Ruby port isn't aged in a barrel long, and it's a lower-quality wine, but fruitier. Tawny port is a higher quality but yields less of a color and it's aged in wood casks. Tastes drier than ruby port, although it's still sweet.
• Madeira: Made from grapes grown on Madeira, a Portuguese island. It has a cooked, caramely flavor but retains acidity.
• Sherry: Grapes are grown in southwest Spain. The flavor ranges from dry and light-bodied to thick and sweet.
How to serve it
• Port and Madeira can be served at room temperature in a 2- to 4-ounce pour in a brandy snifter or similar glass (or whatever you have). Sherry is often served in a white wine glass, chilled. Fortified wines don't need to breathe.
• On its own after dinner as a dessert.
• With a cheese course.
• Both Berglund and Taylor praise pairing port with Stilton, an English blue cheese.
• Madeira is also tasty with cheese.
• Fortified wines pair well with sweet desserts because the sugar contents match, Taylor says.
• Sherry is versatile and works well with many of the same foods that white wine does. Nuts, olives, cured meats and oysters are some tried-and-true pairing options, Berglund says.
• Port can be open up to two months, easily, Taylor says. Madeira is fully oxidized, so it can be open indefinitely.
When to drink it
The cold winter weather is the perfect time to sip a fortified wine, Taylor says. "It's warming with the higher alcohol content. It's a nice, wintry drink."
Who would like it
It could be a stretch from a person's normal wine repertoire, Berglund says, but it's worth trying.
For instance, people who enjoy red zinfandel will probably like port.
The key to appreciating fortified wines is to have a bit of knowledge before diving in, Taylor says.
"At first it seems strange, but if you understand the purpose and the way it's made, like this is going to go with chocolate because it still has residual sugar, then it's kind of fun," she says.