A PEEK into an Australian drinks cabinet in the 1940s and 1950s would have shown lots of fortifieds and little or no table wine.
In 1950 fortified wine accounted for 86 per cent of national production, but in the 1960s the pendulum swung to table wines. Fortified winemakers countered by releases named for prime ministers, top sportsmen, racehorses and even greyhounds, but today fortifieds make up just 2 per cent of our wine output.
It can be argued that a factor has been the 1994 Australian-European Union trade pact banning European wine region names from Australian labels.
Our producers had to stop using the familiar sherry, port, madeira and tokay terms because they are the names of the European wine regions of Hungary’s Tokaj (tokay), Portugal’s Madeira and Oporto (port), and Spain’s Jerez (sherry). Muscat is allowed - being the name of a grape variety not an EU region.
Despite this upheaval, fortified sales in 2017 lifted 1.4 per cent on the previous year and wines of great merit are coming from such brands as the Barossa’s Seppeltsfield, the NSW Riverina’s De Bortoli, the Hunter’s Drayton’s and Rutherglen’s Chambers and now-Casella-owned Morris label.
To mark its 90 years of winemaking, De Bortoli has released a $90 limited edition of Black Noble, which it declares is the world’s only fortified made from botrytis grapes. It is made from the same botrytised semillon grapes that produce the acclaimed Noble One sweet white dessert wines. The Black Noble wine, however, spends about 20 years in barrels and is fortified with grape spirit and brandy.
A similar process is involved in the Drayton’s Heritage Vines Liqueur Verdelho, which won the best fortified wine trophy at the 2018 Hunter Valley Wine Show.
d’Arenberg chief winemaker Chester Osborn has kept his love of the bizarre with a new $500-a-100ml-bottle fortified called Daddy Long Legs Extra Rare, which is only at the McLaren Vale cellar door. The base wine is dominant grenache with shiraz and mataro (aka mourvedre) and the name comes from the wine being stored in a barrel shed inhabited by daddy long leg spiders and that theme prevails in the bottle resting upon eight legs in an octagonal box.
The Margan winery at Broke is also showing fortified flair by making a vermouth, the Italian-origin aperitif, that’s a key ingredient of martini, Manhattan, Rob Roy, and negroni cocktails. Margan’s 2016 wine recently won a 2018 Sydney Wine Show silver medal in the flavoured fortified class.
THE Margan 2015 Off-Dry Vermouth makes a good aperitif with orange or lime juice or with Bacardi, Campari and/or gin. It has 19.5 per cent alcohol, brassy hues, aromatic potpourri scents and spicy citrus, herb and mixed peel on the palate. Andrew Margan created it with his own semillon and 22 herbs and spices, mainly from Margan kitchen gardens. PRICE: $50. DRINK WITH: canapes. AGEING: six years.
RATING: 4.5 stars
BASED on botrytis semillon wine with an average age of 20 years, the De Bortoli 90th Anniversary Black Noble has 18.5% alcohol, mahogany hues and rich plum pudding scents. The front palate has luscious pecan pie flavour, the middle palate honeycomb, Turkish delight chocolate, molasses and nutty oak and the finish panforte characters. PRICE: $90. DRINK WITH: cherry strudel. AGEING: 15 years.
RATING: 5 stars
THIS lush Drayton’s Heritage Vines Liqueur Verdelho once was sold as Madeira, a name now exclusive to the Portuguese island. It has 18.3% alcohol, amber hues, rancio scents and intense toffee front-palate flavour. The middle palate has mixed peel, coffee, raisins and hazelnuts and a nutty finish. It’s atdraytonswines.com.au and the winery. PRICE: $90. DRINK WITH: trifle. AGEING: 12 years.
RATING: 4.5 stars