Yonatan Sternberg more »

Fortified wine is a term used to describe wines that were processed while adding varying doses of a distilled spirit (often brandy) to the “base wine” during the fermentation process. There are several types of wines in this category with the most popular ones being: Port (Portugal), Sherry (Spain), Marsala (Portugal) and Madeira (Italy). While in this article I will focus primarily on Port style vinos, the world of fortified wines is very interesting and quite diverse and they can be found used as flavor enhancers in various cocktails and cooking as well.

To those who aren’t familiar with the history of Port vinos, it all started back in the mid-17th century when Britain declared war on France and blockaded the French Ports. Since the British wine drinkers were primarily dependent on French wine, the Britons were forced to search for other sources to saturate their thirst. In 1703 Britain and Portugal signed the Methuen Treaty. This treaty included a specific article referring to Port wine export and import. The terms of the treaty stated that Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to substantial tax breaks. In return, exports of English woolen cloth would be admitted into Portugal free of duty. 

During the long journey from Portugal to England the wine would often oxidize and spoil and to solve this problem, Portuguese winemakers began fortifying the wine in order to prolong its shelf life and ensure that the Port will arrive in tact. Port received its name from the city of Oporto which is situated on the mouth of the 560-mile long Rio Douro (“River of Gold”). Similar to the laws regarding the production of Champagne, the strict usage of the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal.  The continued British involvement and impact on the Port industry can be seen to this day in the names of many Port shippers including: Cockburn, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and others. 

Probably the most common food pairing for Port wine is the Stilton blue cheese which provides contrast and balance and the two really complement each other. You will often find Port vinos served alongside nuts, dried fruit, potent cheeses, a fois gras pate with sweet fruit marmalade or a piece of dark chocolate. 

In recent years, several Israeli wineries have also produced fortified Port style wines and today one can find various options in the local wine shop.  

Teperberg, Nevel – I recently tried this wine again and compared it to my previous tasting notes and it was interesting to see that there hasn’t been much change. While the bottle is still sealed Port wines tend to have longer shelf lives compared to regular wines due to the higher alcohol and sugar content. It varies based on the style of Port but after opening the bottle, Port can be kept anywhere from a few days to a couple of months in proper conditions.  Developed for 15 months in a mix of both French and American oak barrels, dark ruby in color, Teperberg’s Nevel (Hebrew for harp), suggests aromas and flavors that bring to mind cherries, dark berry fruits, plums, Chocolate and vanilla leading to a medium-long finish.

Carmel Winery, Vintage, 2007 – relying on Petite Sirah grapes from vineyards in the Judean Hills, this vintage port style wine from the Carmel Winery was developed for 18 month in French oak.  Dark in colour, full bodied with a silky feel on the palate, the wine suggests concentrated notes of cherries, dark berry fruits, raisins and dark chocolate all coming together nicely and leading to a long finish.  

Golan Heights, Yarden, T2 , 2009 – the first Israeli port style vino based on Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao grapes, both Portugese grape varieties, traditionally used to produce Port wines in Portugal. 26 months in French oak, on the nose and palate, ripe cherries, figs and dark berry fruits followed by notes of dark chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and a touch of smokiness all leading to a long and pleasant finish.

Off the Beaten Track

Gat Rimon, Bustan, 2014 – if you are looking to try something different and in the Rosh Hashana spirit, there are also several producers who offer various fruit based liquors. I recently tried the Bustan 2014 which is produced using methods commonly used to produce Port vinos. Aged for 12 months in French oak, the result is very enjoyable and on the sweet-fruity side with very distinct notes of ripe pomegranate, cherries and a touch of warm spices.   Gat Rimon also produces another interesting liquor that is worth a try branded as Rimoncello; a blend of pomegranate wine with a tangy limoncello. Sweet, tangy and very refreshing your guests will be impressed or at least intrigued by this one.    



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