Besides Port

The cold winter months conjure images of a toasty fireplace and a glass of dark, thick wine to warm your stomach and relax your mind. An obvious choice is port, also known as a fortified wine, a category that also includes sherry, madeira, vermouth and marsala. These wines appeal on chilly nights because they’re rich and intense.

This richness comes to a large extent from a small dose of grape spirits designed to boost the alcohol content (this is why restaurants only pour half a glass). Fortified wines in general are wonderful with cheese and can be transcendent with desserts, especially those with caramel. If you don’t have a fireplace, that’s all right—a little fortification will leave a warm glow in your belly.

Cream Sherry Alvears, Jerez, Spain, $16
Great, balanced sweetness and ample dried fruits that avoid tasting too raisiny. Wonderful with coffee and desserts with liberal amounts of pecans or walnuts.

Malmsey Madeira Rare Wine Company, “New York Malmsey,” $45
The sweetest of madeiras, this elixir is made from the Malvasia grape, which contributes to its toffee-like richness and it’s sweet, earthy finish. Fantastic with bread pudding.

Muscadelle, Chambers Rosewood, Australia, $15/.375 mL
Although this is made from a white grape, extended barrel time yields a wine with an amber color and flavors of citrus caramel, brown butter and nuts. Try with custards or puddings.

Monastrell Olivares, Jumilla, Spain, 2004, $30/.500 mL
Port-like in its sweetness, but sexier and smoother (and better with chocolate).

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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