Beverage Director Jane Lopes of The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tennessee, thinks outside the box for pairing fortified wines with the restaurant’s whimsical cuisine. But Lopes argues that these wines are underappreciated by the home cook. “For most, the uses of fortified wines are unfortunately limited to Sherry for cooking and Port for after-dinner drinking,” says Lopes. “Fortified wines can actually be incredibly versatile.” Lopes’s three easy tips will help you enjoy more fortified wines.
Madeira, the darling of wine drinkers in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, is beginning to see resurgence. The Rare Wine Co., and its Historic Series, a joint venture with Vinhos Barbeito, has put Madeira back on the map, especially as a pairing for savory foods. The Madeiras—each named after the young American city where its particular style was popular—are not all sweet. In fact, a number are dry, with rich notes of honey, candied nuts and orange zest. For soups with a touch of sweetness, such as sweet potato or butternut squash, try Boston Bual. For those with more savory notes and acidity like carrot, chestnut or an onion consommé, give Charleston Sercial a chance. D’Oliveira is another great source for aged, profound Madeira. Try its Harvest series for single-vintage wines that have spent less time in wood than its regular vintage Madeira. Broadbent is another choice for affordable Madeira.
Traditionally, Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are bone dry and austere. Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries see more barrel age, are richer and more oxidized, but generally dry as well (occasionally you can see medium dry or semi-sweet styles, but these are rare). The sweet Pedro Ximénez-based variations tend to have lower levels of acidity and rich, unctuous dried-fruit and molasses flavors. To hone in on the stylistic differences, experiment with the various Sherry types from a range of producers. You can also try your hand at Sherry blending. Grab a bottle of dry Oloroso or Amontillado and incorporate a small amount of a Pedro Ximénez-based Sherry to soften it.
Port, Sherry and Madeira can often be found in classic cocktails. Compared to spirits, they’re relatively low in alcohol and blend well with many different flavors, lending themselves as perfect base ingredients. Try a white Port (like Barros’s) with tonic and a lemon wedge, served in a highball glass.
Lopes’s love for wine and spirits commenced at Chicago’s The Violet Hour, where she learned the art of mixology and curated the bar’s wine list. She has also managed LUSH Wine and Spirits and began her studies with The Court of Master Sommeliers before landing at The Catbird Seat.
Here are two original fortified wine cocktail creations that stand up to a variety of dishes.
White Port Cocktail
Courtesy Jane Lopes, beverage director of The Catbird Seat, Nashville
2 ounces Barros White Porto
Splash of tonic water
1 lemon wedge, for garnish
Fill a highball glass with crushed ice and the Port. Top with tonic water and garnish with a lemon wedge.
1 lemon wedge
1 orange slice
¼ ounce simple syrup or agave nectar
Dash Angostura Bitters or Peychaud’s Bitters
½ ounce spirit of your choice (brandy, rum or Bourbon)
2 ounces dry Emilio Lustau Oloroso Sherry
1 lemon peel, for garnish
1 orange peel, for garnish
Muddle the lemon wedge and orange slice in a Boston shaker. Add the simple syrup, bitters, spirit and Sherry. Shake briefly and pour into a cocktail glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon and orange peels.