Before modern bottling methods, wines were often fortified with grape spirit to protect them from spoiling. The different flavours this produced caught on and, by the time it was no longer necessary, there was a continuing market for these higher alcohol wines. Australian fortified wines were international stars long before our table wines gained recognition; our first European wine gold medal was for an All Saints fortified at the London International Exhibition in 1873. As recently as the 1950s, 86% of Australia’s wine production was fortified. Then, in the 1960s, table wines started to gain ground, and today fortifieds account for a mere 2% of Aussie wine production. We’ve phased out regionally specific European names, like Port and Sherry (just as we stopped calling our sparkling wines Champagne), but we still make world-class wines in the classic fortified styles as well as a couple unique to us. Here are some of my favourites and the benchmark styles they pay tribute to.
Sherry Pfeiffer Wines (Rutherglen, VIC)
Aussie ‘sherry’ is now called ‘Apera’ (a name best ignored). Pfeiffer’s spin on Spain’s fino Sherry, simply called Seriously Fine, lives up to its name and fills in nicely anywhere I’d reach for a glass of Manzanilla. Their Seriously Nutty, like most Aussie amontillado-styles, has a hint of sweetness.
Madeira Drayton’s Family Wines (Hunter Valley, NSW)
The Portuguese island of Madeira makes deliciously food-friendly fortified wines from several grapes, including verdelho. Drayton’s no longer call their liqueur verdelho ‘madeira’, but it still has the gorgeous amber hue and intense savoury toffee nuttiness I love!
Port Chateau Yaldara (Barossa Valley, SA)
True Port comes from Portugal’s Douro Valley and Aussie wines made in this style are now simply labelled ‘Tawny’ (barrel-aged, non-vintage) or ‘Vintage’ (bottle-aged, single year). The Barossa, one of our oldest wine regions, has long produced excellent port-style wines, like Chateau Yaldara’s 20-year-old Tawny.
Muscat Morris (Rutherglen, VIC)
Rutherglen is home to Australia’s unique contribution to fortified wine. Made from barrel-aged muscat rouge à petits grains, it’s classified as Rutherglen, Classic, Grand or Rare, in ascending order of age and intensity. Morris Rare Liqueur Muscat is my go-to match with chocolate desserts!
Tokay Campbells (Rutherglen, VIC)
Another Aussie classic, also at its best in Rutherglen, is made from Muscadelle grapes and now called ‘Topaque’, in deference to Hungary’s Tokaji wines. It has the same four-tier classification as the similar Muscat but is a touch lighter. Campbell’s Isabella Rare is the pinnacle!
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