Port, Sherry, Madeira. All treasures. Each superb in its own right.
The Fortified Wines Event at Ballymaloe LitFest.Wine writer Raymond Blake, a convert in the cathedrals of Jerez, led the Fortified Wine Choir that Ballymaloe Colm McCan assembled for Sunday’s event in the Drinks Theatre. Blake urged us all to join the crusade and keep these “legacy wines” in a strong position, warning that if they are lost, they will never again appear, as the unique circumstances that gave rise to their creation will never be repeated. “These are treasures”, Raymond preached. “And each is superb in its own right.”
|Mightn't look like it but they are singing from the same hymn sheet!|
Raymond Blake (left) and Tom Doorley in the Tractor Shed
The treasures for tasting in the converted Tractor Shed included two white wines, an En Rama Fino by Gonzalez Byass and a Dry White Port from Taylor’s. Later came the two reds: the Madeira and a Taylor’s Tawny. The other members of the choir were Leslie Williams, Chris Forbes, Tom Doorley and John Wilson and they all sang from the same hymn sheet urging us, among other things, to serve these fortifieds in a wine glass, underlining that these are real wines.
“En Rama is becoming popular,” said Raymond. “But it is a bit untamed, Fino with knobs on.” Tom Doorley then revealed that his big love is Sherry. “It is great value. I also love the huge range of styles and love the austerity of dry sherry."
John Wilson said these are the “most man-made” wine of all. “They require so much intervention. They are incredible, precise, with complex flavours - savour slowly. My personal measure of Fino is a bottle - great with tapas, Iberico ham, almonds, Manchego cheese.”
|The panel in the tractor shed|
Leslie Williams said En Rama is sherry in the raw, unfiltered and he sometimes matches it with Fish and Chips! Chris Forbes, for a Port man, was generous: “Sherry is one of the wonderful wines, amazing value. Great poured into soup, a use also for White Port. Both are made with indigenous grapes. They are really wines.”
He said Taylors make two of the three styles of White Port, a dry and an extra dry. Five or six varieties of grapes are used and suggested chilling it as an aperitif and serving with tonic and ice.
Raymond loves his Madeira,such a pure wine, "even the sweetest has acidity through it" and it can be measured in centuries, the intensity of it, great flavour, super stuff. Leslie too adores it and says the opened bottle may be kept for quite a while (not not as long as his mother kept the Bristol Cream!). John Wilson is another convert. Of the Barbeito that we were sampling, he purred: “This is so good, it almost hurts, a classic Madeira."
Now we were on to the 10 Year Old Tawny by Taylor’s. John Wilson suggested that this was perhaps the future of Port and was bringing people back to the drink. Chris agreed saying Tawny is the current hero. “There has been a 72% growth in the last ten years, absolutely phenomenal. Importantly, at 25 euro, it is affordable.
He suggested serving it slightly chilled and acknowledged a suggestion that it was great with cheese. “But not just with cheese. Try tarte tatins, pour it over vanilla ice-cream. Once opened, it should last for no more than two or three hours, but it will keep for four to six weeks!”
Chris, who was quite busy over the weekend, rounded off this informal and informative event with a great description of the foot treading (bunions and boils and all), a practice that is still current in Taylor’s. They feel it does the job better, is easier on the grapes. Mechanical methods, for instance, can break the pip and release unwanted elements, the human foot does not break the pip.
So now we've come from the cathedrals of the bodegas to the down to earth practices of the lagaar. Fascinating stories behind all of these fortified wines brought to us by a terrific panel and also via the four superb examples in our glasses. Here’s to the winemakers of the past and the pleasures of the present, and hopefully, if enough of you join the crusade, of the future. Sláinte.
|Chris Forbes (Taylor's Port) and, right,|
Leslie Williams (Irish Examiner)