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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 14, December 2003   
Matching Food with Fortified WinesMatching Food with Fortified Wines  Contents 
Issue 13, November 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 15, January 2004

Matching Food with Fortified Wines

Fortified wines are usually considered as products to be drunk alone, however they offer interesting and unsuspicious qualities in the matching with food as well

 Fortified wines are produced by adding some alcohol, or wine spirit, in the fermenting must or in the finished products and this practice is known as fortification. These important wines, which had a glorious past and were considered as precious commercial products in the past centuries, are often forgotten and not very considered in the enological scene, maybe because consumers do not understand their own identity, confused by the idea of whether they should be considered as wines or liquors. Perhaps the adding of alcohol is what makes these wines not to be accepted as real wines and for this reason some may have prejudices on their identity, however fortification is a process which contributes in these wines to their stabilization and preservation as well as contributing to their balance. Tasting fortified wines is however a pretty complex practice, as well as interesting, for the sensorial and organoleptic evaluation.

 In the past centuries fortified wines were highly valued and appreciated by the noble classes of the European countries, in particular the one of England, which imported huge quantities of Port, Madeira and Jerez, known in England as Sherry, and later huge quantities of Marsala as well. The consumption of these wines was pretty common and they were often included in the official and indispensable beverages for ship's crews: it seems that even today it is still common the tradition of the English Royal Navy to drink the renowned Marsala. In the past centuries fortified wines were usually drunk alone, at the end of the meal or during the talks of gentlemen, and they were even created real and proper ceremonies for the opening of the bottles and the way the content would have been poured on the glass, as it was for Port wine in England. The bottle, as it was opened, sometimes by means of incandescent pliers in order to snap the bottle's neck and without removing the fragile cork damaged by time, was passed from one participant to another by making it slide on the table and without raising it, in order not to make the wine turbid because of the sediments developed in the course of tens of years of aging.

Two good companions of the table: Marsala
and Gorgonzola
Two good companions of the table: Marsala and Gorgonzola

 Even today fortified wines are usually consumed alone, often served as aperitifs, and in particular offered at the end of a meal instead of a brandy or a liquor. These wines are also considered as meditation wines, that is wines to be slowly sipped while contemplating the finesse and the quality of the product during tranquil and calm moments. Maybe the quantity of alcohol they contain, usually between 14% and 20%, make them not to be considered in the matching with food because they are wines to be consumed, rightly, in small quantities. The high alcohol by volume does not allow the kind of relationship one may have with another “normal” wine: the glass in which they are generally served is small and suggest a limited and moderated consumption. It should however be observed that in these wines the intensity of aromas and flavors is strong and their taste-olfactory persistence is pleasingly long, therefore a smaller quantity is enough to allow their appreciation, in particular with certain foods having organoleptic characteristics that would cover the ones of many “regular” wines.


Strong and Amazing Wines That Warm the Soul

 Among fortified wines the ones from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France are the most renowned ones. Despite the fact it is less frequent, fortified wines are also produced in Australia, South Africa and in other countries of the world, however the typical ones from the historical wine countries of the world play a fundamental role in their category. Spain produces two excellent fortified wines renowned everywhere: Jerez, also known as Sherry or Xérès, and Málaga. Jerez is an extraordinary fortified wine and thanks to its many styles can offer wide and interesting possibilities in the matching with food. The production of Jerez consists in an enchanting process from which are made many styles of wine. The grapes typically used for its production are Palomino, mainly used for dry Jerez, Pedro Ximenéz and Muscatel for sweet or semi-sweet Jerez. The production begins with the vinification of the must and at the end of this process the wine is evaluated in order to decide its best “future”, that is whether the wine should evolve as Fino or Oloroso, the two families of Jerez. The difference between fino and oloroso consists in the way they will age and refine with time. Base wines used for the production of Jerez age in casks not completely filled, they are usually filled for four fifths, and they are fortified, that is a quantity of alcohol is added, up to having 15% of alcohol by volume for Jerez Fino and 18% for Jerez Oloroso. Thanks to the lower alcohol by volume, in Jerez Fino will develop a precious and essential layer of microorganisms, yeasts of the saccharomyces species, that will completely cover the surface of the wine in the cask, an event which does not take place in Jerez Oloroso because of the higher quantity of alcohol.


 This layer of yeasts, called flor, shields the wine from oxygen, therefore preventing its oxidization, and its activity will alter the organoleptic qualities of the wine while giving it a complex and unique character. In Oloroso, in which the flor does not develop, an oxidization takes place instead and this will alter its organoleptic qualities, very different from the ones that will develop in fino, and the effects of this event are also evident in the color. Jerez Fino has a straw yellow color, common in white wines, whereas Jerez Oloroso have an intense amber color: from the same base wine and thanks to the events which take place, are obtained two very different products but however both interesting and complex. The aging of Jerez is done with a particular system called Solera y Criaderas (figure ), also used for the aging of other fortified wines, such as Marsala. The system consists in stacking rows of casks one upon another, each row is called escala and contains a wines of a particular average age, the lowest row which is contact to the floor is called solera and contains the oldest wine. The row stacked upon solera is called 1st criadera, the next one is called 2nd criadera and so on until the highest row which is called last criadera. The system consists in drawing a quantity of wine off from the solera, usually not more that one third of the cask's capacity, and this wine will be bottled: this operation is called saca and it is usually done two or three times per year. The part drawn off from solera is replaced by the wine contained in the higher row, the 1st criadera, which is subsequently filled with the wine of the 2nd criadera, the process is repeated until the last criadera which is filled with new young wine. These operations of filling are called rocio.

 The Solera y Criaderas system ensures a constant quality of the wine and it is based on the principle that a young wine acquires the character of the older when properly blended. In Jerez wines produced with this method, as well as in other fortified wines, next to the term solera can be found the year, usually very old, and this does not have any connection with the vintage of the wine contained in the bottle, it simply indicates the year when the Solera y Criaderas system was started. Therefore in case a bottle reads “Solera 1870”, it means the wine was drawn off from a solera started in 1870 and of which, of course, cannot be determined the exact vintage because the system includes wines blended from that year on. Among Jerez “Fino” styles there is Manzanilla, produced at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, very typical for its very dry taste. Among other Jerez styles should be remembered Amontillado, a Jerez Fino aged for long time after the flor disappeared; Medium, a sweeter amontillado; Palo Cortado, Oloroso and Cream, sweeter than the first twos; Pedro Ximenéz, sweet and dense, produced with the homonymous grape dried under the sun; and finally Pale Cream, a sweet Jerez Fino. Jerez wines are usually dry, however are pretty renowned the sweet styles produced with the adding of wines made of Pedro Ximenéz and Muscatel grapes. East from Jerez is produced another famous fortified wine of Spain: Málaga. Produced in the homonymous city, this wine usually makes use of the same techniques for Jerez and the grapes that make it are Pedro Ximenéz, Muscatel and Airèn. Málaga is produced both dry and sweet, where sweetness is obtained by adding cooked must.

 Portugal produces two famous fortified wines: Port and Madeira. The production of Port consists in interrupting the fermentation process of the must by adding alcohol. There are two styles of Port: white, exclusively produced with white berried grapes including Malvasia and Verdelho, and red, produced with red berried grapes, including Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional. White Port is a delicate and aromatic wine produced both as dry and sweet. Among the most simple red Port styles there are Ruby, a young wine with evident aromas of fresh fruits, and Tawny, usually aged in cask for about 3 years and having a color with nuances of orange because of oxidization. Ports of superior quality are characterized by pretty long aging periods. Reserve is a Port with an average aging time of 7 years, however aging can also be longer: quality Tawny Ports can also be aged for 40 years and more. Among the most looked for Ports should be mentioned Vintages, wines of a specific vintage and expressly created to give their best after a patient and long aging in bottle, usually tens of years. Of particular interest are also Late Bottled Vintage Ports (LBV), usually aged in cask for about 5 years, and Crusted Ports, produced by blending different vintages and subsequently aged in cask for about 4 years. The island of Madeira is famous for the excellent and homonymous fortified wine which differs from the others because of the production method. This wine takes its excellent quality from the estufagem method, a process consisting in heating the wine for at least 90 days, as well as from the effects of oxidization. In France the so called Vin Doux Naturel are produced by fortifying the fermenting must in order to interrupt the process and to keep sugar. Renowned are Vin Doux Naturel from Languedoc-Roussillon produced with Muscat Blanc, such as Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat de Rivesaltes, as well as Banyuls, a red fortified wine mainly produced with Grenache Noir grape in the area of Pyrenees, available both as dry and sweet.

The method \emph{``Solera y Criaderas''
The method “Solera y Criaderas”

 In Italy the most representative fortified wine is the famous Marsala. The production of wines in Marsala is dated back to very ancient times, however its notoriety increased at the end of 1700's when an English merchant, John Woodhouse, was surprised by this wine and decided to export it to his homeland. In order to better preserve the wine to the risks of a long journey in the hold of a ship, he decided to add some alcohol, probably remembering the common practice used for Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines, very renowned and appreciated in England. The success was so striking that Woodhouse decided to produce Marsala himself and to export it to the United Kingdom. After this initial success, other producers began the production of Marsala and in the course of time they all contributed to improve this great wine and that would certainly deserve a higher consideration. Marsala is a white fortified wine produced with Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino grapes, however there is also a red style produced with Pignatello, Nero d'Avola and Nerello Mascalese grapes. The production of Marsala consists in fortifying a base wine, white or red, to which is added, according to the style, concentrated must, muted must, that is must to which is added alcohol in order not to start fermentation, or cooked must. Marsala wines are classified according the following categories: Marsala Ambra, Marsala Oro and Marsala Rubino. Marsala Ambra is produced by adding cooked must to a base wine, Marsala Oro is exclusively produced with white berried grapes and the adding of cooked must is not allowed, whereas Marsala Rubino is produced with red berried grapes and the adding of cooked must is not allowed. The fortification of Marsala Oro and Rubino is done by adding brandy aged for 5 years in cask instead of alcohol. Marsala wines are classified as: Marsala Fine, with an aging time of at least one year; Marsala Superiore, aged for at least two years; Marsala Superiore Riserva, aged for at least four years; Marsala Vergine and/or Soleras, aged at least five years; Marsala Vergine Stravecchio or Riserva, aged for at least ten years. Marsala Vergine is exclusively obtained by fortifying the base wine with alcohol or brandy and the adding of the components allowed in other styles, such as cooked or concentrated must, is forbidden. Marsala is sometimes aged with the Solera y Criaderas method (figure ). Finally, Marsala is produced as dry, demisec or sweet, according to the quantity of cooked or concentrated must added to the base wine. By considering the production method of Marsala Vergine, the most elegant and refined among Marsala wines, the only style that can be produced is dry.


Matching Fortified Wines

 Fortified wines are generally tasted alone and without any food matching, however these extraordinary wines are very versatile and suited for food matching. Before discussing the characteristics useful for the matching with food, it is appropriate to consider the way these wines should be served. The glass generally used has a small size in order to favor the service of little quantities. The producers of many fortified wines have proposed different shapes and sizes for their wines, such as for Jerez, traditionally served in copita, a glass resembling the shape of an ISO tasting glass, a choice which certainly exalts the aromatic finesse and richness of these wines. In case copitas or small glasses are not available, the best choice certainly is the ISO tasting glass. Temperature in fortified wines is, just like for sweet and botrytized wines, pretty wide, generally between 10° and 18° C (50-65° F), however there are many who support the idea these wines should be served chilled, even at 6° C (42° F). The considerations on temperature are always the same: high temperatures accentuate alcohol, sweetness and aromas, low temperatures attenuate them while accentuating astringency. An alcoholic and sweet fortified wine can be served at a lower temperature, while paying attention to not penalizing aromas too much.

 The matching of food with fortified wines must consider, first of all, the qualities of the wine. Fortified wines have an alcohol by volume usually between 15% and 22%, therefore their contrasting action on succulence and the capacity of cleansing unctuous foods will be pretty evident. Alcohol also attenuates the relative perception of sweetness, therefore a sweet fortified wine will appear as less sweet of what it is for real, and the two components together contribute to the overall roundness of the wine. Even acidity will be carefully evaluated: despite alcohol will play an important role in the balance by lowering the relative perception of acidity, this sensation is however a characteristic in white wines. Finally astringency, particularly in red fortified wines, augmented by the effects of the aging in cask, is a characteristic frequently found in white fortified wines as well. Sweet fortified wines are excellent companion for desserts and confectionery, in particular for elaborated cakes enriched with complex ingredients, such as dried fruits and fruit jams. Thanks to the appreciable roundness and sweetness, together with alcohol and acidity, these wines are magnificent companions for hard cheese, in particular with piquant cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Roquefort, renowned is the matching of Marsala Superiore Riserva with Gorgonzola, as well as Port with Stilton.

 Fortified wines are usually destined with the matching of desserts and cheese, indeed, in case their organoleptic characteristics are carefully evaluated, particularly sweetness, they can also be used for interesting and extraordinary matchings with other and unsuspicious foods. This hypothesis is confirmed by the long Spanish tradition of matching dry Jerez with the tasty “tapas”, the renowned culinary preparations offered with aperitifs or used as appetizers. Dry fortified wines can be well matched with many recipes based on meat and fish, but also with pasta and rice, as well as game. In this specific case it is good to choose dry and demisec fortified wines with an adequate alcohol by volume, very wide in these wines, usually ranging from 15% to 22%. An example is offered by Jerez Fino or Manzanilla, usually less alcoholic, very versatile in the matching with food, perfect with fish, in particular with crustaceans as well as with cold cuts. Rich Jerez Oloroso or Palo Cortado are, for example, well matchable with meat and game. The same considerations are also valid for dry Marsala and Marsala Vergine. Sweet fortified wines are good companions of desserts and cheese, hard or piquant, and in case the alcohol by volume is sufficiently high, between 18%-22%, they can be matched with chocolate, a complex food notoriously considered as scarcely matchable with wine. As an example it can be tried a Jerez Pedro Ximenéz, a Port or a Marsala Superiore Dolce matched with chocolate as well as with a cake made of chocolate.


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  Corkscrew Issue 14, December 2003   
Matching Food with Fortified WinesMatching Food with Fortified Wines  Contents 
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