The changing of the season

Flagship Wines 31.10.13

Flagship Wines 31.10.13 - Credit: Archant

The question of when to drink fortified wines is a hot topic of conversation at the moment. It seems that as the weather becomes more autumnal and the type of food we cook changes in tandem then the answer of what to drink with it must change too.

Seeking out fuller flavours and more warming recipes means searching for wines of similar ilk to accompany them. Fortified wines can provide an alternative to the fuller richer styles of wines such as Australian Shiraz, Rioja, Chilean Merlots, oaky Chardonnays etc from around the world.

A fortified wine has had a fortifying spirit - usually brandy - added to it, unlike spirits made from wine which have been produced by the process of distillation.

Port, sherry, Madeira, Pineau des Charentes and Vermouth are all fortified wines, many of which were popular with previous generations but deserve the resurgence that is quietly happening with these products.

The big brands within all these categories still exist such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream, own label ports and sherries but nestling amongst them on the shelves of wine merchants and supermarkets are some delicious examples of fortified wines which are well worth seeking out. They are more often thought of as aperitifs if they are dry or digestifs if full and sweet but think again...

If you are looking for something to drink with chicken liver pate or Ardennes pate then a soft rich chardonnay or a dessert wine would be a good choice.

But why not think fortified and choose amontillado sherry which is a soft rich wine with a lingering hint of nutty orangy fruit. Own label examples are a great place to start but they often lack the individual character of the more prestigious old soleras such as the Del Duque from the well known sherry producer Gonzalez Byass.

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Some of the drier Olorosos, usually the richest sherry style, would be good with pate too.

Port too offers many different styles that are enjoyable with menu courses other than dessert or cheese. If you use a port in cooking then why not enjoy a glass alongside it? Mushrooms on toast cooked in port and cream lends itself to being accompanied by a glass of the lighter ports such as the Grahams Six Grapes. A young Tawny port is also great with soups especially if a slug of this deliciously soft ripe fortified wine is added to the soup during cooking – great with spicy root vegetable soups…

Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in a range of styles from very dry to lusciously rich and complex. It had its heyday in the 20th Century but is still produced and companies such as Blandys and Barbeito make wines that are worth seeking out. It is not just for cooking so buy a cheap supermarket label wine to cook with and a better one to enjoy with the food! Pineau des Charentes is a lesser known fortified wine category, produced in south eastern France around Cognac, the source of the fortifying brandy/spirit. The white has a lovely soft mouth-filling texture whilst the red version is great with rich long cooked casserole and with chocolate!

As a category fortified wines are very versatile and worth seeking out not only for cooking to enhance recipes but also for enjoying alongside all courses where they can complement the flavours. A great alternative to your normal wine choice.