Thursday, February 24, 2011

FORTIFIED: Wine takes a Trip

As my Wine Exam gets closer, it becomes necessary to look back so that we can look ahead. With more than a dozen postings since December, the chapter-ed overviews here looked at the worlds important wine production areas(with some personal bias).  We saw that red and white wines of improving qualities have been made throughout Europe's modern history, across a lateral band of old world countries, that eventually colonized the New World too.

It has been suggested on other sites that fortified wines were the result of their respective production areas not being able to produce anything other than simple, thin wines without the benefit of fortification by available spirits. Perhaps, but my research indicates that there may have been other forces at play. Emerging domestic merchant classes, expanding international trade encouraged by favorable tariffs with principal trading partners, and thirsty foreign markets drinking up the exotic flavors of the week all impacted the development of a fortified wine product. Central to all of this was transportation, either overland or over sea, where the maritime colonizing powers had distinct advantages, not to mention increasing ports of exchange.

Fortified wines, or wines that have added spirits, like Spain's Sherry, Portugal's Port and Madiera, France's VDNs, or Italy's Marsala and Vermouth, have things in common. Grape brandy or neutral spirits are typically used too arrest fermentation, resulting in a stabilized product that is able to be shipped. At 16 - 18%abv, alcohol is toxic to yeasts which are the catalysts to wine fermentation, usually leaving un-fermented sugars. It should be no mystery then that these wines developed and proved to be very popular during the Age of Exploration.

North African Moors introduced distillation to Spain in the 8th century, and the two styles of Sherry, Fino and Oloroso evolved. Fortified after fermentation is complete, Finos are the result of biological aging, where the fermented juice is in contact with a veil of yeasts(flor) which controls oxidation. Olorosos undergo physiochemical aging, having direct contact with air in a controlled environment. Both are products of a complex system of fractional blending and aging known as the Solera. Desiring to expand its export market, Sherry's export tax was abolished in 1491. A year later, Columbus set sail from Sanlucar de Barrameda(one of 3 Sherry production sites) for the New World with Sherry on board.

As the adventurers Columbus, Vespucci, Velasquez, and Cortez, introduced Spanish culture to the New World throughout the 16th century, the market and reputation for fortified(15-18%abv) Sherry grew. When Sir Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587, he returned with a hold full of Sherry for his Queen, Elizabeth I. Sherry, fortified after fermentation is complete, will be dry unless sweet is added back in.  Due to its complex production system, the Sherries of Spain are the least acidic and most aldehydic wine in the world, offering a range of delicate and dry to lusciously sweet styles.

 Distillation was an important part of the 12th century medieval medical school in southern Italy. Simple wines could certainly be distilled to create a grape brandy, continued to increase in popularity. Late in the 18th century,  Marsala, a fortified white DOC that may be produced dry to sweet, was created by an enterprising English merchant. Today the best blended Marsala's can be found in oro(golden), ambra(amber) and rubino(ruby) styles, in selections labeled Fino or Superiore.  Highly esteemed,  a dry Vergine Stravecchio Riserva, has been aged a minimum of ten years in cask.

About the same time Northern Italy's aromatized wine, Vermouth, which can be made in dry or sweet styles, began being produced from house herbal 'recipes' that go back to the late 18th century. Also in Piedmont, Barolo Chinato DOCG, a bitter quinine flavored fortified wine, is a regional specialty.

In the South of France, vin doux naturals have been produced since the 13th century, and today spread across the southern arc of the country. In the Cotes du Rhone, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is produced naturally sweet. The Rhone also produces a spectrum of  Rasteau VDN's from the village of the same name, from Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir grapes. Frances largest producer of VDN's, Roussillon  produces notable wines from the workhorse Muscat grape, Muscat de Rivesaltes, and also Rivesaltes AC which is made in available grape blends in red, white or rose styles. Banyuls also produces top quality VDNs from regional Grenache red grapes.
Portugal was a global nautical power throughout the 1400's. With a well developed island wine industry by the 16th century, Madiera's, Vinho da Roda, or wines that made the round trip sea voyage were very popular on ships and in colonial port cities. Styles of Madiera, the result of controlled heating(estufagem) and oxidation,  are pale, dry Sercial, golden Verdelho, sweeter and darker Bual, and luscious Malmsey(Malvasia).  These are also the names of their traditional 'noble' grape varieties, although the native Tinta Negra Mole remains the islands most planted grape variety. Today we can join our Founding Fathers by raising a glass of Madiera to celebrate signing our Declaration of Independence, or making a terrific pot of soup!

In the last half of the 17th century, the wines fortified to stop fermentation from Portugal's Douro Valley became known as Oporto, popularly Anglicised as Port. The colonial power's Methuen Treaty of 1703 with England provided a reliable trading partner for its much sought-after wines. In 1756, the Douro was defined and protected by the prime minister in a decree intended to control and regulate production, thereby becoming one of the oldest appellations in the world. Rarest of all are finest bottle-aged Vintage ports, which spend only about 2 years in cask(pipes), and Single Quinta's.  These styles are the product of the absence of oxygen or reductive aging from a declared vintage. Most Port's are wood-aged, a minimum 3 years for Ruby style and many years more for LBV and Tawny oxidative styles.

South of Lisbon, ancient Muscat(Moscatel) grapes are grown on the Setubal Peninsula to become the source of a fortified wine similar to Port,  Moscatel de Setubal DOC. These apricot-raisin wines are cask aged and have been produced for centuries. Setubal's are said to have been 'invented' by J.M. Fonseca, one of the oldest Port producers in the world.

In Central Europe around 1500, German alchemist, Hieronymus Braunschweig, published The Book of the Art of Distillation.  With the exception of noble Riesling, a grape suited for its climate extremes, the Northern edge of the wine-growing world seems then perfectly situated for the development of fortified wines.  Surprisingly, Germany and Austria, whose New World colonization waited until the 19th century, are not big fortified wine producers. Perhaps there were other factors that encouraged the development of fortified wines for us to enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there I would like to get in contact with regards to using an image from this post. Please can you send me your email address? Thanks Jessica