Whether you're looking for a bottle to enjoy with dinner tonight, or want to present the wine aficionado in your life with a great vintage, we offer a look at some of the world's key wine regions, the different types of wine, pairing wine with food, and a handy wine terminology guide. Cheers!
"Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher." -Evelyn Waugh
Fortified wines were born of the need to preserve European wines on long trade voyages during the 16th and 17th centuries. Measures of brandy were added before or during the fermentation process to stabilize the wine. On long sea voyages, fortified wines were able to withstand the wildly fluctuating temperatures and constant motion they were subjected to in the ship's hold.
Virtually the same process is used to make today's fortified wines. The resulting wines typically contain between 17 and 21 per cent alcohol, and are more stable than ordinary table wines and less likely to spoil once opened. If Brandy is added after the fermentation process, the result is a dry wine. If added before fermentation, the result is a sweet wine with a high sugar content.
There are four key types of fortified wines: Port, Sherry (named for Jerez, its Spanish birthplace), Madiera [muh-DEH-rah] (named for the island southwest of Portugal on which it is made) and Marsala (the best-known fortified wine of Italy). The latter two are often used in cooking, but some drinkable types are available.
Port, named for Opporto, the Portugese city of its birth, is perhaps the best known of the fortified wines. It has several different styles:
Ruby -- Aged only three years, ruby Port is deep red, with a rich, sweet flavor.
Tawny -- Generally older and lighter than ruby, this tawny-colored wine is available in different varieties and ages.
Vintage -- A classic after-dinner drink, vintage Port is typically aged at least 20 years.
White -- Made from white grapes, white Port's flavor ranges from sweet to dry. It is usually served chilled, after dinner.
Sherry's diverse styles make it suitable for a number of different occasions -- and sometimes challenging for even the most knowledgeable gourmet.
Even a lot of bartenders put it with the liqueurs, on the shelf above the cappuccino machine. Sherry is not a spirit. Sherry is a white wine. It needs to be kept chilled. And put it in a wine glass, not a cordial glass.
In a nutshell, sherry's lighter versions, fino and manzanilla, are aperitif wines or wines for light fish dishes, especially shellfish. Its medium-bodied versions, amontillado and palo cortado, go well with chicken, roasted pig, roasted veggies. Its fuller version, dry oloroso, is excellent with roasted red meats. Its dessert versions, sweet oloroso, moscatel and pedro ximinez, are some of the world's sweetest wines and can be served with chocolate cake or even poured over ice cream.
Sherry begins as a regular wine, made from southern Spain's acidic palomino fino grape. Then a natural film of yeast called flor (Spanish for flower) develops on it, protecting the aging wine from oxidization and creating its lighter styles. In other barrels, the formation of flor is revented, and these wines undergo the oxidization that creates fuller styles such as oloroso.
All sherries are fortified with grape brandy, from regular wine's 12 to 15 percent alcohol for lighter styles to 18 percent or more for the fullest styles.
All sherries age in a solera system, in tiers of barrels. Each year a percentage of sherry is drawn off from the oldest tier to sell, and sherry is drawn from younger barrels to refill the older ones. Thus every drop of sherry has at least a few molecules of wine from decades earlier, assuring consistency.
For the sweetest sherries, the super-sweet pedro ximinez grape is picked, allowed to dry almost to raisins in the sun, then added.
Fino -- Pale gold in color, this sherry is dry, light and suitable for pairing with tapas as well as light meats, cheese, and seafood.
Manzanilla -- Similar in style, color and food pairings to Fino, Manzanilla should be served chilled.
Cream -- Rich and sweet with a dark mahogany color, cream sherry is an ideal accompaniment to many desserts.
Oloroso -- Fragrant, full-boded and amber to mahogany in color, this sherry makes an excellent aperitif and is good served with game and red meats. Medium-sweet, it can also be served with dessert, nuts and fresh fruit.
Pale Cream -- Smooth-tasting and pale in color, this sweet sherry pairs well with foie gras and fruit salad.
Amontillado -- Amber-colored, dry and full-bodied, Amontillado is an ideal partner for heavier fish dishes, older cheeses and white meats.