Sweet Temptation - Rediscovering Fortified Wine

Henry Jeffreys is a renowned writer on the topics of wine and drink. He is coming to the Bar & Pub Show to speak about a lesser-known group of drinks, namely fortified wines that have languished too long at the back of drinks cabinets across the UK. Henry is bringing a collection of interesting bottles from far-flung corners of the former British Empire to educate us in the ways of this neglected type of tipple.

We asked him to give us a taste of what to expect from his session, Hitting the Sweet Spot where he will be exploring the idea of upselling fortified wines and bringing them back to mainstream menus in interesting ways. 

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Do you have a personal favourite fortified wine and can you describe it?

My favourite is probably Rivesaltes from Roussillon in France, the older the better. This is a sweet wine made mainly from Grenache Blanc which is aged in a variety of old barrels and glass demijohns which are sometimes left out in the sun so that the wine gently cooks. You get flavours of nuts, dried apricots and toffee which is known in Catalan as 'rancio' - literally rancid. I'm not really selling it, am I? 

Are there new and interesting ways to serve fortified wines?

 Dry fortified wines such as fino sherries or marsala vergines are some of the most adaptable foods wines in the world. They're perfect tapas wines, refreshing the palate for the next mouthful. Richer ones are perfect with jamon iberico or mature hard cheese.

In your session, you will be talking about the stickiest wine on the planet. Where does it come from and what is it like?

The stickiest wine in the world is Tokaji Essenzia from Hungary which has so much sugar in it - about 600g per litre - that it cannot ferment properly so is only about 3% alcohol.

I'll be showing a Rutherglen Muscat from Australia which has 200g per litre which is still incredibly sweet. By way of comparison, Sauternes has only about 100g per litre. Like a Rivesaltes, this Rutherglen Muscat is made from wine left to cook in the sun. It's one of the wine world's great experiences because it's so sweet, like a glass of Christmas cake, but it's also very drinkable, not cloying at all.

Do fortified wines feature in your book, Empire of Booze?

Yes! The book is basically a hymn to the joys of fortified wines. The book, a history of the British and drink, is mainly set in the 18th and 19th century. This was pre-refrigeration so the wines that were popular were ones that could stand up to some severe extremes of temperature and, in the case of Australian muscats, marsala, madeira etc. actually improve from such brutal treatment. 

What would be your choice of fortified wine for Christmas menus - something that might steer us away from the festive convention of port and sherry?

Australian muscat is the perfect Christmas pub wine. In fact, I'd much rather have a glass instead of Christmas pud. I'll be showing a Maury, another Roussillon wine, that's a great alternative to vintage port. Rivesaltes is perhaps the world's greatest cheese wine but it also works with fruit tarts, apple pies, that sort of thing. These are cold weather wines par excellence.

What would you say to visitors who are considering attending your session in October?

These wines are a history lesson but I guarantee you will not try six more delicious, unusual and thought-provoking wines in one place this year. Come with an open mind and you will be converted to the joys of fortified wines. 

You can join Henry for his session at Hospitality Uncorked on Tuesday 3rd Oct at 12:00pm - 12:45pm. His book, Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass is the winner of Debut Drink Book at the 2017 Fortnum & Mason Awards and you can read his blog here Worldofbooze.wordpress.com