While fortified wines such as Port and Sherry usually enjoy a lift in sales in the pre-Christmas period, Port and Sherry houses, like whiskey suppliers, are having to innovate and concentrate their efforts on catering for international demand focused more on the Premium level.
In doing so, they find themselves shining a spotlight on Port and Sherry’s ageing process and quality of production – just like whiskeys.
Over half of the fortified wines sold are purchased in the run-up to Christmas and while Port and Sherry could be described as ‘fairly unique’ or not for all tastes, there’s still a viable market for it if presented in the right way.
With sales in the on-trade comparatively unremarkable for the standard versions to date, Port & Sherry houses are producing limited-edition Super Premium versions for sale in the off-trade.
And there’s no reason why the on-trade couldn’t cash-in on this development by way of introducing Premium serves this Festive Season.
Port & Sherry
As with Champagne and Irish whiskey, Port finds itself tied into its geographical location so only fortified wines grown from grapes from the Duoro Valley – and thus made in Portugal – can enjoy the title ‘Port’.
Port wine was a regular staple as far back as the 17th Century and the name derives from the port of Oporto from whence exports of Port were shipped out onto international waters.
In fortified wines such as Port, alcohol has been added to the wine to halt the fermentation of the wine at an early stage so that not all the sugar has been converted to alcohol – thus the sweetness of Port.
Otherwise producers in Spain allow all the sugar to be fermented before adding the alcohol to produce a dry wine such as Sherry.
Port is often served as a traditional dessert wine but in other countries, those making this kind of dessert wine must choose a different monicker for their product since calling it ‘Port’ is verboten.
This forces wine-makers elsewhere to come up with alternative names for such fortified wines – for example, the cheeky emergence of the US dessert wine brand ‘Starboard’.
Other countries have also got in on the act such as Australia, Argentina, Canada, India and South Africa.
The fact remains that if authentic port has ‘Porto’ appearing on the label, then it means that the wine was exclusively made in Portugal – and northern Portugal at that, on the steep sides of the Duoro Valley.
Port can be either White, Tawny or Ruby in classification but there are a variety of sub-styles to these three categories through use of more than 70 grape varieties.
Frequently White Port is offered as an aperitif.
In 1815 the Scotsman Robert Cockburn and his brother John, already successful wine merchants in Leith near Edinburgh, set up a branch of their firm in Porto: R&J Cockburn’s.
They’d many business partners through the years and like all the early Port companies the name changed, eventually coming to be known as Cockburn’s & Co: the name that survives today and which is distributed here by Barry & Fitzwilliam.
The Cockburn’s Lodge is the largest wooden Port cellar in the historical area of Vila Nova de Gaia. The Lodge has rows of barrels of all shapes and sizes and houses the largest collection of Oak barrels and wooden vats of any Port cellar in Porto. The perfect balance and softness in this wine is achieved by ageing it for longer in the Lodge.
The best-selling of the Cockburn range is the Fine Ruby Port, a punch-packing ripe fruit-filled Port which makes it the perfect Port for everyday informal occasions.
Serve it slightly cool or at room temperature in a generous glass. It pairs perfectly with cheeses or chocolate cake.
Other Cockburn Ports include: Tawny, Late Bottle Vintage, Fine White & Special Reserve.
Together, the Cockburn’s & Co family built themselves a remarkable reputation for fine Vintage Port. The records at the London auction houses show that in the early 20th Century Cockburn’s Vintage Ports commanded the highest price of any Port house.
Harveys Bristol Cream
Harveys Bristol Cream, created in 1882 by John Harvey II and his brother Edward, is the result of a meticulous selection of over 30 blends of Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez grapes. It’s aged in American Oak casks using the traditional system of soleras and criaderas and is a global icon of Sherry.
Sherry is wine, therefore it should be consumed within a reasonable period after purchase. A fino/manzanilla can be sealed up to a year and once open keeps for up to one week if kept in a fridge.
Harveys vineyards are situated in the picturesque region of Jerez in southern Spain where the local winegrowers cultivate a selection of grapes.
Each area has its own microclimate that contributes to the character and style of its local Sherry.
Harveys Bristol Cream tasting notes:
Very sweet Sherry that’s a blend of old Olorosos, Finos and Amontillados sweetened with Pedro Ximenez.
Amber coloured, it has toffee, citrus & sweet Vanilla on the nose.
Rich, mellow and very smooth with roasted nuts, raisins, figs & toasted caramel.
Presented in a distinct blue bottle, it’s distributed by Barry & Fitzwilliam.
In 1835 in Jerez, Spain, Manuel Maria Gonzalez, an ambitious 23 year-old, set up the first manifestation of the company that was ultimately to become Gonzalez Byass. Young Manuel was mentored in this by his uncle, José Ángel y Vargas (known as Pepe), already a renowned authority on Sherry and its production.
It was natural therefore that in 1837 Manuel should give the first, tiny bodega (cellar) over to his uncle so that the older man could potter away at his passion to create a delicate Sherry to his own, personal taste.
Later, Manuel sent a couple of barrels of his uncle’s new, dry wine over to his London agent, one Robert Byass. The future company partner was sceptical: “We shall see what can be done with the very, very pale wine that you so highly recommend”.
But the beautifully dry taste of José Angel’s wine proved a great success and in 1849 Manuel named what is now the world’s best-selling Fino after its creator (Tio being Spanish for Uncle) – Tio Pepe, distributed here by Barry & Fitzwilliam.
Tio Pepe is uncompromisingly dry, refreshing and distinctive. It’s fantastic especially with savoury nibbles such as Jamon Iberico, Chorizo, Olives and nuts.
Croft Triple Crown
Croft, one of the oldest and most distinguished of all Port houses, was founded in 1588. The Port wine producer is renowned above all for its Vintage Ports in addition to its range of wood-aged Reserves and Tawnies, time-honoured styles refined by skill and experience, passed down the generations.
Behind every great wine producer is a great vineyard. The cornerstone of Croft’s distinctive house style is the famous Quinta da Roêda, “the jewel of Port wine estates”. The wines of this magnificent property, which contains some of the oldest vineyards in the Douro Valley, are the heart of Croft’s Vintage Port blend.
Croft remains a family company, dedicated to the production of the finest Ports of all styles, from full bodied Reserve Ports to the iconic Croft Vintage Ports prized by connoisseurs and collectors.
Exclusively distributed by United Wines, Croft Triple Crown has a loyal following among knowledgeable wine drinkers.
Made from a selection of full-bodied ripe ports from the finest areas of the Douro Valley, it’s aged in seasoned Oak vats in Oporto’s cool, tranquil cellars.
With fresh Raspberry and Cassis aromas this wine has a heady, almost scented quality, which is repeated on the mouth. The wine is a delicious mouthful of fresh fruit flavours in perfect balance. The perfect finish to any meal, it can be poured by the glass without the need to decant.
For more information please contact United Wines: 0044 2838316555.
Taylor’s 10 Year-Old Tawny
Although best-known for its legendary Vintage Ports, Taylor’s is also one of the most respected producers of 10 Year-Old Tawny Port.
This Port style is fully matured in seasoned Oak casks, each holding about 630 litres of wine. Here, over many years, the wine gradually takes on its characteristic amber ‘tawny’ colour, slowly developing the complex mellow flavours and smooth luscious palate – the hallmarks of Tawny Port.
Taylor’s blends its 10 Year-Old Tawny from its extensive reserves of old cask-aged Ports matured in the firm’s cool and tranquil cellars (known as ‘lodges’) in Oporto on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.
Exclusively distributed by United Wines, it’s a superb example of the aged Tawny style – mellow and elegant, combining delicate wood notes with rich aromas of mature fruit, it’s bottled for immediate drinking.
Deep brick colour with amber rim, rich and elegant nose combining aromas of ripe berry fruit with a delicate nuttiness and subtle mellow notes of chocolate, butterscotch and fine Oak wood, it’s smooth and silky on the palate and full of ripe figgy, jammy flavours which persist on the long finish.
It’s also the best-selling 10 Year-Old Aged Tawny Port in the UK.
For more information contact United Wines: 0044 2838316555.