SUPPLIED / VISAGE
You might not know it now, but there’s a loyal legion out there unfailingly extolling the virtues of the sorts of wines hitherto forgotten by mainstream drinkers, but that are slowly making a public comeback. Yep, fortified wines. Welcome back port, sherry, muscat and tokay.
Unfashionable for many years, these complex wines have their fans, among them sommeliers who know that these styles still have a place at the table and have the ability to lift a dish or complement a dessert.
In fact, fortified wines might never have gone out of fashion if it wasn’t for their high alcohol content, which didn’t go well with the introduction of .05 and random breath testing in the 1970s. The high alcohol content means that little more than a glass is enough to tip drinkers over .05, so the boozy business lunch with a bottle of port to conclude a deal rapidly declined.
Because fortifieds are unfashionable, the production at bigger corporate wineries has also been on the decline as they are often seen by marketing departments as hard-to-sell wines, but there are a few smaller winemakers holding onto the great Australian fortified tradition.
One of those is Eric Semmler, of 919 Wines in South Australia’s Riverland. Semmler made his first fortified 21 years ago while working for Brown Brothers.
“I was attracted to the complexity and spectrum of flavours available in fortifieds,” he says.
It’s a fascination he’s retained ever since, producing a vast range of fortifieds – from fino sherry to muscat and tokay to port – as he upholds part of Australia’s great wine heritage.
“It’s important for small producers like me to be putting wines like these down for the future.
“We bought our vineyard in 2002 and from 2005 started putting down muscat, tokay and tawny port, which is now a seven-year blend of touriga nacional, tinta cao, tempranillo, shiraz and durif.
“We only make vintage port in a good year. These are made in the portuguese style – they finish dry, long and balanced, are complex and intense, rich yet elegant.”
That’s the spirit
Fortified wines are made with the addition of alcohol spirit to extend their life and slow the oxidisation process. The process dates to the 18th century, when these wine styles were important commodities and were transported long distances.
Getting the right spirit to blend with the wine is as important as the winemaking process when
“Spirits have more stylistic differences than even wine,” says Semmler.
“For a vintage port we look for a one- to two-year-old brandy spirit that is 70 per cent alcohol, and we’re looking for a spirit to complement and lift the fruit and add complexity to the?wine.
“Typically, the spirit will have length and weight, characters of rubber and, this sounds strange, cabbage as well as heavy oil notes and yet still have florals mixed in the aromas.
“As the wine progresses through its life, the spirit integrates and you get lovely complex styles.”
Many commercially made ports use a neutral spirit that doesn’t add complexity to the finished wine.
“With muscat, tokay and sherry you’re looking for a more neutral style of spirit, and with tawny you’ll choose a more aromatic style, a cleaner brandy,” Semmler says.
919 Wines Classic Tawny NV
(Riverland) $25 (500ml); 19.5%
Started seven years ago, this tawny contains the Portuguese varieties touriga nacional, tinta cao and tinta roriz, along with shiraz, durif and grenache. What it lacks in age compared with many of the great solera systems of Australian wine, it makes up for in complexity. A lifted bouquet of citrus rind, clove, caramel and citrus peel leads to rich flavours of marmalade and Christmas-cake ingredients – candied peel, berries, nuts and spice. It’s balanced, with a zesty freshness, drying tannins and a complex brandied finish.
Food match \ Crème brûlée
Turkey Flat Pedro Ximenez NV
(Barossa Valley) $27 (375ml); 17%
This is a lighter style of PX than the dark, treacle-like wines of Spain, and with a bit of time in the bottle – this blend from vintages from 1997 to 2002 was bottled in 2004 – it has developed well. Blended with brandy spirit, delicious orange marmalade, coffee, old leather, raisins, fig and spice flavours lead to a satin-smooth, sweet yet fresh palate. It finishes with rancio complexity and persistent orange marmalade flavours.
Food match \ Vanilla bean ice-cream
Seppeltsfield Para 21 Year Old Vintage Tawny 1990
(Barossa Valley) $75 (750ml); 20.5%
Aged in a barrel for 21 years, this is an amazingly complex wine. Spice, hazelnut, dried peel, chocolate and brandy dominate the aromas, and on the palate there are berry flavours and the notes of a gentlemen’s club with tea, leather, tobacco, mocha and chocolate. A luscious texture is well balanced with fresh acidity and drying tannins. It finishes with waves of flavour including toffee, nuts, chocolate and red fruits that last in the mouth for the best part of a minute.
Food match \ Hard sheep’s cheese
Dutschke The Tawny NV
(Region) $35 (375ml); 20%
The average age of this wine is 22 years, but there are components that date back more than 30. Complex yet bright, this displays aromas of spice (cardamom and clove) and dried orange peel and a wide spectrum of intense flavours from fruitcake, nuts and butterscotch. It’s smooth in the mouth with the sweet and fresh balance spot-on and some good drying tannins that all that time in oak barrels imparts in the wine. Length is excellent, with a deicious finish of dried citrus and?butterscotch.
Food match \ Roasted chestnuts
Love a bargain?
All Saints Estate Rutherglen Muscat NV
(Rutherglen) $20; 17%
Light burgundy brown in colour, this has a floral bouquet of citrus, raisins, rose petals, orange rind and a hint of coffee. Its flavours include raisins, toffee and a lip-smacking citrus rind that increases the wine’s appeal. Best served really chilled, this has a thick, viscous texture and bright acidity that helps keep the wine fresh, which is important with these styles of wines. A long, intense chocolate and toffee flavour rounds off the wine nicely.
Food match \ Chocolate pudding