Fortified Wine, Dessert Wine, Port Wine
As we roll into fall and winter, thoughts of roaring fires, cashmere sweaters, and elegant dinner parties are filling my head. And with this in mind, “Red on Reds” is taking a slight detour into the sumptuous world of dessert wines: What are they, what do they pair well with, and how sweet is sweet?
Much is written about the celebrated wines and terroir of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Travel southeast from California’s “wine country” through the Central Valley and you will find a unique gem of a winery nestled in Madera County. Quady Winery has spent the past 30 years refining the art of dessert wines. IntoWine.com caught up with co-founder Andrew Quady (his wife Laurel is the other brain behind it) to talk about Quady’s California style dessert wines.
“I’ll try the Madeira” I said to the sommelier. After retrieving a new bottle from the back of the wine bar, she poured a glass of the deep red wine and set it down. As I made a motion to begin my first sip, I heard: “wait a second; I have something for you to try.” A small dish was placed in front of me, filled with brownish-black disks. “Its chocolate,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Oh, of course,” I responded, not totally understanding the pair of wine and plain pieces of chocolate. Then, as I tasted the bitterness of the chocolate combined with the smooth sweetness of the Madeira, I began to appreciate the origin of the slight smirk flashed by the sommelier. What a perfect match.
“You know the old caution: Champagne after sherry makes tummy grow wary.” -Niles Crane I’ve always wondered what Niles and Frasier Crane were talking about. They walked around espousing obscure French literary references, in Italian suits, while holding those tiny wine glasses . And from those glasses they sipped this caramel-colored, somewhat translucent beverage that provoked the haughtiest of behavioral patterns. I knew it had to be something special.
Born of the need to protect wines on long sea voyages, fortified wines were created. As trade expanded in the 16th and 17th Centuries to finally encompass the whole globe, many of the wines from Europe became spoiled on their long journeys across the oceans. To counteract this problem, wine makers took up the practice of adding measures of brandy to stabilize the wine.
Port is a fortified wine from the remote vineyards in Portugal's Douro Valley. Here, in the Douro Valley, time has almost stood still. You will not find the latest wine making techniques and fancy equipment. Instead, you will find a wine industry much the way it was over a hundred years ago. Yet, in spite of it, or because of it, vintage Port is one of the world's greatest wines. Port takes its name from the city of Oporto that is situated at the mouth of the 560-mile long Rio Douro or River of Gold. Although many port-style wines are made around the world – most notably Australia, South Africa and the United States – the strict usage of the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal. It is these wines that we will explore here.