As evenings grow cooler and snow begins to fall in the mountains, our thoughts drift toward autumn and winter nights when a delicious glass of fortified dessert wine warms the belly and the soul.
Fortified dessert wines — crafted by adding brandy during fermentation — tend to be high in alcohol and off-dry to sweet on the palate. They pair beautifully with nuts, fresh fruits and cheeses such as Roquefort or Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue.
Traditionally, these styles of wine are made in Portugal (hence the name “Port”) and Madeira (an island off the coast of Morocco), and they are made in varying styles. Fortified wines, particularly vintage Ports, age beautifully, showing off their depths of flavors 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years after going into bottle. And unlike typical dry table wines, fortified wines will be fine for a longer period of time after being uncorked. In particular, Madeira-style fortified wines can stick around for weeks. That said, they are at their peak for the first few days after being opened, so don’t hesitate.
We recently conducted a tasting of Northwest fortified wines on behalf of Wine Press Northwest magazine. The complete results of the judging can be found in the fall issue, which came out Labor Day weekend, or at www.winepressnw.com.
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Here are a few of our favorites. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Thurston Wolfe 2010 JTW’s Port, Washington, $13: This delicious fortified wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Naçional, Tinta Cão and Souzão. It opens with dark, intense, spicy aromas of chocolate, vanilla bean and boysenberry syrup, followed by stunning flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, toasted almond and black currant that leads to a gorgeous, sensual finish. (19 percent alcohol)
Maison de Padgett NV Smoking Gun, Washington, $20: This unusual and remarkable dessert wine is infused with coffee flavors, leading to delicious aromas of hazelnut, honey, spice and medium-roasted coffee beans. On the palate, its gorgeous flavors reveal notes of caramel, vanilla and coffee. Java lovers will want to stock up on this. (19.2 percent alcohol)
Barnard Griffin 2013 Syrah Port, Columbia Valley, $17: This opens with aromas of black and blue fruit, vanilla, blackberry pie and bold spice. On the palate, it reveals flavors of Marionberry syrup, blueberry and elderberry. A luscious texture leads to a smooth, lengthy, memorable finish. (19.5 percent alcohol)
Brian Carter Cellars 2012 Opulento, Yakima Valley, $40: Longtime Washington winemaker Brian Carter uses classic Portuguese varieties in this dessert wine. It shows off aromas of molasses, Baker’s chocolate, sarsaparilla and blackberry jam. A smooth entry gives way to rich, bold flavors of ripe dark fruit and just-out-of-the-oven brownies drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. (18 percent alcohol)
English Estate NV Sweet Autumn Gold, Washington, $26: Using Pinot Noir juice, this winery near Vancouver, Wash., has crafted an Angelica-style dessert wine, meaning the juice is fortified with brandy prior to fermentation starting. The result is intense aromas of toasted hazelnut, raisin, dried banana and honey, followed by sensual flavors of ripe apricot and nutmeg. (16.5 percent alcohol)
Bitner Vineyards 2008 Cole Vincent, Snake River Valley, $26: Grape grower Ron Bitner and winemaker Greg Koenig have been collaborating for 20 years in Idaho’s Snake River Valley. This beautiful dessert wine reveals aromas and flavors of Marionberry, blackberry, dark chocolate, spice and fig. It’s a beautiful wine to enjoy on a cold autumn day. (19 percent alcohol)
Lantz Cellars 2012 Red, Red Mountain, $39: Owner/winemaker Kevin Lantz sourced traditional Portuguese varieties for this delicious dessert wine at his winery in Lake Stevens, Wash. Aromas of spice, smoke, ripe dark fruit and chocolate shavings give way to intimate flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. It all leads to a long, plush finish. (20 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue own Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.