Sip and Savour Before or After Dinner

In this blog we go into a little more detail on each of the fortified wines to broaden your knowledge as we wind down our “Wine Down Wednesday” wine blog.


Port is one of the great classic European wines. The addition of brandy before the wine has finished fermenting retains the natural sweetness of the grape, making it rich, round and smooth on the palate.

Ports can be broken down into either wood aged Ports or bottle aged Ports.

The wood aged ports break down into three categories:

  1.  Full bodied, fruity deep Red Ports aged for a short time in large oak vats. Intense fruity flavours reminiscent of cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.
  2.  Rich and mellow Tawny ports age longer in oak casks. The delicious nuttiness and aromas of butterscotch and fine oak wood intensify the longer they spend in wood.
  3.  White Ports, made from classic white Port grapes are aged for two or three years in large vats and are available in sweeter or drier styles.

The bottled aged family of Ports is made up mainly of Vintage Port and includes a small category called Crusted Port.

  1.  Vintage Port represents the very best produce of a single outstanding year. It remains in vat for only about two years and then ages in bottle.
  2. Crusted Ports are not made from wines of a single year but, like Vintage Ports, are capable of maturing in bottle. Also like Vintage Ports, they are not filtered before bottling and will form a ‘crust’ (natural sediment) in the bottle as they age.

Pair with: Cheese, as a dessert wine or as an after dinner drink. White Port can also be enjoyed as an aperitif and it is one of the best wines to enjoy with chocolate or a fine cigar.


This Portuguese wine is made in the Madeira Islands. The base white wine is fortified with neutral grape spirits at differing points of fermentation. The more sweet the Madeira, the earlier in fermentation the base wine is fortified. Madeira is unique because it is not only fortified, but oxidized and “cooked.”

Grapes and Styles of Madeira Wine

Sercial – A white wine grape producing a dry style of Madeira.

Pair with: An aperitif with salty foods, almonds, walnuts, assorted olives and heavy broth soups.

Verdelho – A white wine grape producing a semi-dry variation of Madeira.

Pair with: Appetizers like prosciutto, fancy mushroom dishes or caviar.

Bual – A white grape producing a semi-sweet Madeira.

Pair with: A dessert wine with fruit-based or caramel desserts.

Malmsey – A white grape that typically registers sweet when made into Madeira.

Pair with: Cheesecake, tiramisu, crème Brule or dark chocolate-based desserts.

Madeira – A “generic” Madeira label means that the wine is not made from one of the four key noble grape varietals. It will also typically come with a label such as sweet (doce), dry (seco) or somewhere in between (meio doce – “medium sweet”).


Sherry is a fortified wine in southwest Spain’s “Sherry Triangle.” Sherry wines go through a  blending system of casks that hold wines of different ages. Therefore they do not have a vintage date.

Specific Types of Sherry and their pairings:

  1. Fino – Very dry, light-bodied straw-like in color. The characteristic aromas associated with Finos are almonds. Amazing with almonds, olives, ham, and chips and dips.
  2. Manzanilla – Also dry, and pale in color. Best with seafood and tapas.
  3. Amontillado – In between Fino and Oloroso in terms of color and body. The characteristic aromas associated with Amontillados are hazelnuts. This Sherry is great with oily fish and chicken dishes.
  4. Oloroso – Dark in color, rich in flavor. Olorosos have a walnut aroma and a swirled caramel flavor making them a top pick for rich meats and flavorful cheeses.
  5. Palo Cortado – Is a very rare Sherry that has a dry palate and an enchanting reddish-brown color combination with dramatic aromas and full flavor.
  6. Sweet Sherry – Is a Sherry that has been sweetened with Pedro Ximénez grape juice.  It has thick, sweet flavors of fig and molasses.
  7. Cream Sherry – Rich mahogany in color and velvety smooth in texture. This sweet Sherry is perfect with cheesecake.
  8. Pedro Ximénez – Is an ultra-sweet almost syrup-like dessert Sherry, made from sweet, sundried grapes of the same name. Its flavour profiles lean towards the toffee, fig, and date and molasses side of the vine. Excellent over vanilla ice cream!


Marsala, Italy’s most famous version of fortified wines a higher alcohol fortified wine that is available in either sweet or dry variations. While Marsala wine is often recognized for its use in cooking it has been gaining ground as an aperitif and dessert wine. Crafted from local, indigenous white grapes, the fermentation of Marsala is halted by adding grape brandy.

Marsala wine is classified according to colour, age and style as follows:


  1. Ambra (Amber colored) – made with white grapes.
  2. Oro (Gold hues) – made with white grapes.
  3. Rubino (Ruby colored) – made with red grapes, like Pignatello or Nerello Mascalese.


  1. Marsala Fine –aged for a minimum of one year typically used for cooking wine.
  2. Marsala Superiore – aged up to three years in oak.
  3. Marsala Superiore Riserva –minimum requirement of four years in oak. This starts the Marsala tier that you would use as either an aperitif or dessert fortified wine option.
  4. Marsala Vergine – has a minimum aging requirement of five years and may go up to seven years in oak.
  5. Marsala Vergine Soleras – as the name implies is a Marsala blend of multiple vintages, with a minimum of five years of aging.
  6. Marsala Stravecchio – aged a minimum of 10 years in oak.


  1. Dolce – sweet
  2. Semi Secco – semi sweet
  3. Secco – dry

Pair with: Pair dry Marsala with smoked meats, walnuts, almonds, assorted olives and soft goat cheese. Sweeter Marsala wine pairs with chocolate-based desserts and Roquefort cheese. Or serve Marsala with any dish that includes Marsala in its ingredients

What is a Fortified Wine?

A fortified wine is a delicious wine-based sipping treat that is “fortified” with additional alcohol that’s been added to the base wine during fermentation. Fortified wines all have alcohol added to them at some point in their production, giving them an alcohol content that ranges from 16 to 24 percent.port

How is Fortified Wine Made?

Fortified wines are a blend of various grapes and vintages. The point at which alcohol is added determines whether the wines are naturally sweet or dry:

  • When fortified with alcohol during fermentation the wines are sweet, because the added alcohol stops fermentation, leaving natural, unfermented sugar in the wine. Port is the classic example of this process.
  • When fortified with alcohol after fermentation (after all the grape sugar has been converted to alcohol), the wines are dry (unless they’re subsequently sweetened). Sherry is the classic example of this process.

The most common types of fortified wines are Port, Sherry, Marsala and Madeira.

How is a Fortified Wine Aged?

Many fortified wines undergo aging in wood casks. The actual aging time depends on the fortified wine, but in general the cheaper the fortified wine, the less time it has spent aging in oak. As a result of this deep wood aging, many fortified wines will benefit from decanting and aeration.

What Foods to Pair with Fortified Wines: Fortified wines are known for their contribution to the world of wine as both an aperitif and a dessert wine option. Many cheeses, nuts, cream-based desserts, chocolate desserts and fruit torts pair well.

To learn more about pairing fortified wines stop by next week as we delve deeper into the differences in Port, Sherry, Marsala and Madeira.

We will wind up the Wine Down Wednesday blogs for 2013 with an article on how to host a wine and cheese tasting party.

 Coming in 2014 Beer, Beer, Beer and the Craft Brewing Revolution.

Grapes On Ice

Legend has it that Ice Wine was discovered by a German winemaker who was away 220px-Ice_wine_grapesfrom his vineyard during harvest and when he returned all of his grapes had been frozen on the vine. Undeterred he carried out the unorthodox harvest as usual and proceeded to press his frozen grapes for fermentation. The result, the first Eiswein. Canada has got the current claim to ice wine-making fame, with the majority of the market’s ice wine offerings coming from British Columbia and Ontario.

Most Ice Wines are made in a medium to full-bodied style. The most common aromas tend towards the stone fruits, with apricot and peach being the top components of aromatic character in the ice wines made from white grape varietals. On the palate, sweet, honey-like nuances shine bright along with the replay of stone fruit and rich, exotic flavors of tropical mango. Red wines tend towards strawberry and candied red fruit profiles with sweet spicy aromas woven in the mix.

Like many dessert wines, the alcohol levels in ice wine tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum. Average levels of alcohol range from 7-12%, with German Eisweins coming in lower than that of their Canadian counterparts as a whole.

It takes 30 pounds of grapes to produce on 375 ml bottle of Ice Wine. Because the frozen grapes yield such small quantities of liquid, the overall production numbers of ice wines are considerably lower and therefore true ice wines will typically be pricier than your average table wine.

How is Ice Wine Made?

The most common grapes utilized in the making of ice wine are Riesling, Vidal, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. The season starts with netting the grape vines in the autumn, to protect the grapes from being devoured by birds. Grapes are left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached. During the time between the end of the growing season and harvest, the grapes dehydrate, concentrating the juices and creating the characteristic complexities of Ice Wine.

Grape growers and wineries carefully watch the weather, looking for an optimum stretch of temperatures between -10°C and -12°C. This range will produce very sweet juice in the range of 35°Bx to 39°Bx (degrees Brix, a measurement of sugar). Typically, a period of at least six hours is needed to harvest and press the grapes—usually during the night. Many wineries harvest by hand.

Ice Wine grapes, when frozen, are as hard as marbles. All the water content in the grape is completely frozen so when the grapes are finally pressed, all that it released are intensified aromas, sugars and nutrients referred to as “Grape Honey”.

Pair with: Chill your Ice Wine first. It’s called a “dessert wine,” which means you can enjoy it with dessert or make it the dessert. Ice Wine is also a perfect complement to rich, strongly flavoured foods, such as foie gras and aged blue cheeses.

Ice Wine, Canada’s liquid gold has become such a luxury good that it is being knocked off in many parts of the world. Canadian Ice Wine makers are often invited to work overseas with Canadian Consulates to educate the overseas media, importers and distributors on what real Canadian Ice Wine is.