Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Big Fortified Tasting 2013: Making Old-Fashioned Fashionable

Part One: The Masterclasses

For a lot of young people, fortified wine is stuff your Nan drinks, but have a little delve into the drinks industry and you'll see it's surging back into a more mainstream position amongst old and young drinkers alike. We're fast cottoning onto the fact that not only can it be a delicious aperitif and a perfect after-dinner tipple, it's also one of the great, overlooked food-matches, with a fortified to suit everything from canapes to capers to caramel ice cream.

The Big Fortified Tasting that took place yesterday is a great opportunity for young wine-fans like us to go along and learn more about how port, sherry and madeira (and their new-world counterparts) can become a bigger part of our everyday drinking habits.

As well as lots of tasting (we're doing a separate post on that later) we were also lucky enough to be part of the two hottest masterclass sessions of the day. It was fantastic to hear from the genre's leading winemakers, so we thought we'd share their fortified hints and tips for both novices and fans alike.

Session 1: Graham's Tawny Port Masterclass with Johnny and Paul Symington

Being huge fans of the legendary Port producer Graham's, we felt very fortunate to meet the Symingtons, whose family have owned the brand since 1970. Paul and Johnny have clearly inherited the family's passion for making only the finest port and were eager to tell us why tawny port should be more on the UK drinkers' radar: currently it only makes up 3% of the country's port sales, although port sales in this country are steadily on the rise again.

First we tasted their 10, 20, 30 and 40 year old Tawnies - proving there's something for every price-point. It was fascinating to see how they got gradually smoother with more developed almond, honey and fig flavours, and yet crucially they remained fresh and easy-drinking.

We then got to try two ridiculously special single-vintages in the form of 1969 and 1952, both of which were still fresh and balanced with delicious orange-peel and spice flavours, and also gloriously mouth-filling.

The family has invested huge amounts of money into making sure they combine tradition with innovation. For instance, it's worth noting that unlike many producers they have retained the practise of employing their own coopers (that's the guys that make the wooden casks), in fact they have seven of them! However they are still forward-thinking: they've recently taken the decision to use only grapes that have been matured in the Gaia region, as climate change means the Douro is now too humid to keep the fruit fresh.

They have also shifted their emphasis from the tastes of the big competitions to the tastes of the consumers themselves: prize-winning ports tend to have more sweetness that opens up in the glass and makes them stand out in a blind tasting, but not many drinkers would be able to drink more than a glass of something so sickly sugary. Graham's instead make ports with more complexity and an underlying freshness that makes them devilishly easy to drink.

So why choose tawny port? Well, as the Symingtons explained, it really suits our modern drinking habits: you can serve it chilled like a white wine, you don't need to decant it, and because of the extra alcohol and its sweet nature you can keep it in the fridge for ages so you don't have to drink it all at once!

Food Matches: If you've ever drunk it before it would probably be with Christmas pudding, mince pies or nuts, but tawny port is also a brilliant match for fuss-free food: from a bowl of strawberries and greek yoghurt to some ice cream with caramel and chocolate sauce, it's gorgeous. It's also perfect with various caramel-based desserts, bread pudding, blue or hard cheeses, and pâtés.

Session 2: Vintage Port Masterclass with Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort! Joe and I got childishly excited when we saw him, as to us he's always been a Port legend. And he certainly didn't disappoint: he and Ramos Pinto's fabulous Joao Nicolau d'Almeida put on a cracking show and gave us a massive eighteen Ports to taste.

We started with - get this - the 1924 Ramos Pinto (that's older than my Grandad!) and the 1942 Niepoort - a wartime Port! Both were incredible: full of complexity, with iced berry fruit and sweet spice and an unbelievable freshness considering their age.

We tasted from their up through various vintages in the 70s-90s, and then came the treat of sampling their 2011 vintage. Every year had wonderful individual character, and the younger vintages (2011 particularly) were oozing with pent-up potential.

 The message was clear: vintage port is worth investing in for the longterm, which makes it perfect for younger wine fans who can witness a vintage evolving beyond all expectations from decade to decade. Consider it an introduction to parenthood.

We'll talk about other highlights later on - we were particularly excited about some South African and Australian fortified wines!

No comments:

Post a Comment