A fortified wine is one that has been fortified with alcohol. It actually describes the process and the name sounds kind of technical but we can no longer call them Port as the Portuguese get a bit narky about that. In Australia we can only fortify with grape spirit which is the result of distilling grape wine and harvesting the alcohol.
There are two types of grape spirit, brandy and SVR (Spiritus Vinum Rectificatum). Without going into Distillation Theory (which gets very technical) I’ll just mention that the type of spirit added can significantly affect the flavour of the wine.
On the cheaper end is SVR around 96% alcohol but tastes like the medicine cabinet for about the first three years after fortification.
At the other end is 30 year old barrel aged brandy which is delicious but tends to lift your head off as it is around 60% alcohol and predictably, it is very pricey.
Fortified wines made in Australia must have between 15-22% alcohol. Fortification timing is usually determined by calculating the desired amount of residual sugar for the finished wine and adding spirit to stop the ferment at that point as yeast cells can’t survive in the presence of high alcohol.
Roughly half of the grape sugar is preserved to sweeten the wine, so about 7% of the alcohol comes from fermenting the vintage and the balance comes from fortification.
There are three typical styles of Port: Ruby, Vintage and Tawny.
Ruby is made to be consumed young and bright.
Vintage is made from a single vintage and usually bottled within one to three years of the harvest then bottle aged.
Tawny is a blend of years and aged in part full barrels to deliberately oxidize the wine. Tawny incorporates the Solera system of fractional blending which is best explained as a stack of barrels with the oldest wine in the bottom barrels and the youngest in the top.
Each year bottling is done from the bottom barrels but no barrel is ever emptied of all its contents and that barrel is then replenished by the barrel above it (but the barrels are never filled completely full) which is in turn replenished by the barrel above it and so on.
It takes a number of years to set up a Solera system and the resultant wine tends to be quite consistent as it is a continual blend of multiple vintages.
Due to deliberate oxidized barrel aging Tawny wines have rancio characteristics of nuts, toffee, chocolate, coffee and raisins. Tawny’s are rarely very approachable when young as the oxidative process is slow and several molecular changes are required to take place to achieve the sought after and rewarding flavours.
My Tawny wine included in your Club Dozen is made up of several varieties of grapes, including Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and even a little bit of Semillon.
It is an average age of 13 years old and displays luscious notes of nuts, toffee and contentment.