Spare a thought for fortified wine – its time comes but once a year for many drinkers. But there’s so much more to the category, finds Clinton Cawood
There’s no denying the importance of the festive season to fortified wine, and as we head into the final months of 2022, now’s the time to explore the category’s potential, and encourage consumers to make the most of it.
At Majestic Wine, according to fortified buyer Jake Biggs, Christmas this year is all about discovery, “becoming reacquainted with old favourites and discovering something new – and with fortified wines you get to do both”.
Chris Forbes, sales director for The Fladgate Partnership, with ports such as Taylor’s and Croft in its portfolio, has some ideas for new fortified occasions during the festive season. To start, he suggests pairing Coronation turkey, made with Christmas leftovers, and chilled tawny port.
“It really lifts those nutty, dried fruit characters in the wine,” he says, also recommending mulled port, made ahead of time to serve to guests on arrival.
FORTIFIEDS FOR ALL SEASONS
Beyond the festive season, the poster child in recent years for all-year-round fortified drinking has been White Port & Tonic.
Jim Wilson, portfolio director for Hallgarten & Novum Wines, describes white port as “a prime example of where fortified wines have escaped the traditional boundaries”, saying that it’s “a great example of how innovating can introduce a new audience of consumers to different styles”.
Mary Wright, Sogrape Iberia Estates ambassador at Liberty Wines, agrees. “The marvellously refreshing White Port & Tonic is a delicious aperitif and a good alternative to a G&T,” she says. “Port is a great go-to for cosy autumnal evenings and Christmas festivities, but there are so many different styles and serves for the rest of the year.”
Majestic’s Biggs is on the same page. “We firmly believe fortified wines are not just for Christmas,” he says, describing how the annual launch of Tío Pepe En Rama in the spring has become an event that customers and Majestic staff look forward to.
Waitrose, too, promotes its range of fortifieds throughout the year, confirms Bianca Snowie, communications officer for Waitrose Brand & Lifestyle.
“Fino and manzanilla sherries, and white port, prove particularly popular with our customers in spring and summer as they are excellent chilled wines as aperitifs in warmer weather, and customers often shop these styles on their return from holidaying in Spain or Portugal,” she says, adding that port is also popular with Waitrose shoppers around Easter.
Tawny port is another style that works well throughout the year. “Served chilled, it can be a wonderfully cooling aperitif or digestif on a summer evening,” says Wright. Forbes believes that serving temperature during the warmer months is key, explaining that when tawny is chilled, “the alcohol and spirit is removed and you are left with a beautiful glass of rich, complex port, with hints of orange flower – the perfect drink to enjoy on a warm summer evening”.
Herefordshire-based The Secret Bottle Shop promoted Kopke 10 Years Old tawny port for Father’s Day in June, using the tagline Chilled Tawny for a Cool Dad.
“We keep banging the drum that port is not just a drink for the festive season, primarily by promoting chilled white and tawny port each summer,” says wine buyer Adam Kirkbride.
BEYOND PORT AND SHERRY
To highlight the breadth of the fortified category, Hallgarten featured a Californian fortified, Starboard Batch 88 by Quady, alongside Barros 10 Year Old tawny in the winter issue of its promotional magazine, Assemblage.
“Quady is an expert in creating new dishes and drinks with its wines, which can help engage consumers and introduce them to fortified wines,” says Wilson. Kirkbride has some pairing suggestions for fortified wines off the beaten track.
“You could pair a Maury, Banyuls or fortified Malbec with something like venison as a main, or a less sweet Madeira with certain seafood dishes,” he says.
Fortified Malbec is a particular focus at The Secret Bottle Shop, given the recognition that the grape already has. And Kirkbride also extols the virtues of small-format Madeira tasting packs.
Whatever the style of fortified, most agree that sampling is invaluable when expanding the horizons of customers.
“A lot of people have never tasted styles like aged tawny port or port cocktails before,” says Wright. “When they do taste, they’re often blown away.”
Majestic’s Biggs concurs. “Using our tasting counters in-store, colleagues can encourage customers to experience new products and step outside of their comfort zone,” he says.
Alison Easton, marketing director for Gonzalez Byass UK, has a few other tips, such as positioning fino sherry in chillers next to olives and jamón, and offering recipe ideas for cocktails, or food pairing suggestions, adding that “many consumers return to buying safe wine choices because they are unsure of what else to try – we need to collectively offer them more help in making confident choices”.
And to remind them that fortified wines are for life, not just for Christmas.