The world of fortifieds can sometimes be a little confusing. What is a port and what is a liqueur? How long should you leave open a muscat or a port before it doesn’t taste the best? How do you pronounce Topaque and what is it?
There is a wonderful diversity of fortifieds from around the world and Stanton & Killeen is very proud to be from Australia’s best known and most awarded fortified producing region, Rutherglen in North East Victoria. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about these wine styles or felt too embarrassed to ask, read on. We also have a page that explains ‘What are Fortified Wines?’ which will give you a quick overview.
Essentially, if you only remember a few things, remember these three:
ALL PORTS ARE FORTIFIEDS BUT NOT ALL FORTIFIEDS ARE PORTS.
Sometimes people use the word ‘port’ to describe any wine that wouldn’t look out of place in a small glass next to a fire with a furry cat on your lap. Whilst this is a romantic view, in reality, the world of fortifieds is incredibly diverse with many different styles and flavour profiles from around the world. Not to mention the many opportunities to enjoy them (see tip number 3).
The word ‘port’ derives from when the town Oporto in Portugal produced and exported much of the world’s fortifieds, both barrel-aged and bottle aged. It is now a protected term under European Union legislation and only wine made in Portugal can use this term. For example, we now call our wines Vintage Fortified and White Fortified, but we know what you mean if you ask us for a ‘VP’ or ‘White Port’.
The term ‘liqueur’ was used in a similar way, and even though these two words were once common expressions for all fortified wine, there is now so much variety around the world that it’s best to say ‘fortified’ and then specify which one you mean, e.g. muscat, topaque, apera, tawny or vintage fortified.
Topaque is the new Australian term for Tokay and is pronounced ‘TOE-PAKE’, rhyming with cake. This change was due to the same EU naming laws as only Tokaj in Hungary has the right to use the word Tokay. Stanton & Killeen Topaque is made from golden-coloured Muscadelle grapes, one of the very last varieties to be picked during the Rutherglen vintage and produces extremely rich and honey-like flavours. Some other words we can no longer use in Australia include sherry, burgundy and champagne.
Only wine made in Portugal can be called Port. In Australia, we make many types of fortified wine with a few name changes along the way, and consequently, the best overall term to use for wine that is has been made with spirit is ‘fortified wine’.
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF FORTIFIEDS: BARREL AGED AND BOTTLE AGED.
There are only a few exceptions to this rule (look up Garrafeira Port) but how the fortified wine is made will determine how long you can cellar the wine and how quickly you need to drink it once opened.
Wines aged in small and large oak casks - such as muscat, topaque and tawny – get their unique flavour profile and lusciousness from the time spent in barrel and the process of oxidation. The longer they spend in the barrel, the more they develop.
At S&K, we do all the hard work for you by having a modified solera system where we mature and bottle wine according to similar style and age. We bottle according to the Rutherglen classification system with Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare indicating a graduating system of richness, complexity and age.
These wines will not continue to mature in the bottle. We bottle them in small amounts to keep them fresh and recommend opening them within two years of purchase. Keeping a Grand Muscat in your cellar for 10 years will only reduce the bright, fresh flavours of the wine.
Once opened, you have a bit of time to consume the bottle as it will not ‘go off’. Our barrel-aged fortifieds are freshest within the first few weeks upon opening and it is our recommended drinking timeframe, however, a muscat left open for several months will still be okay. They have already oxidised, therefore there’s no risk of the wine tasting like vinegar within a few days.
On the other hand, you may have heard about Vintage Ports (we call ours Vintage Fortified) that can last for many years in the cellar. There’s something quite special about opening a 30-year-old wine from your birth year. They can last that long due to different winemaking methods and because they are usually bottled within a year or two of production. Due to this, a bottle-aged Vintage Port/Fortified needs to be enjoyed within a few days of opening before they oxidise exactly the same way a table wine does.
barrel-aged = a blend of different years = no cellaring required = can be left open for several weeks
bottle-aged = a single year or ‘vintage’ = ultra long-term cellaring potential = must be consumed within 3 days of opening
FORTIFIEDS AREN’T JUST FOR WINTER
Finally, because wine lovers are now spoilt for choice, there is no reason to relegate your favourite fortified wine to the cupboard, only to be brought out on the coldest nights in winter and to be eaten with dessert. In Rutherglen alone, you can find light, drink-now styles which are great as mixers or aperitifs, or more rich, lingering styles that come out for special occasions.
If it is a sweltering hot day in summer, why not try our White Fortified or Rutherglen Topaque chilled and mixed 50/50 with soda water served over ice, or even try one of these muscat cocktail recipes. The lighter the style, the easier it is to enjoy as an aperitif or accompaniment to a starter. Rutherglen Topaque, for example, is a striking match with duck rillettes or very rich paté and fois gras. The smooth, silky notes of the Topaque cut through the oiliness of the aforementioned meals.
When it comes to dessert, we like to recommend the younger Rutherglen and Classic classifications if you want to match them to a certain dish. Download our food matching charts below or try one of our recipes. The Grand and Rare classifications are so rich and intense that they are a meal in itself. The length of flavour and layers of complexity are superb at any time of the year. Some material blended into the Grand and Rare wines can be over 30 years old.
We’ve written about the versatility of our Vintage Fortifieds here. You can enjoy them in the traditional way with a strong Roquefort cheese or try a lighter, younger release with a tomato-based casserole. The sweetness of the wine will balance the acidity of the casserole.
Sharing our love of fortifieds is what we do best. Visit the Stanton & Killeen cellar door to come for a tour, taste your way through our range and find your favourite fortified.
There's a fortified for every occasion. The trick is to experiment and discover the many different styles and serving suggestions to find the right one for you.
NOW, TIME TO ENJOY.There you have it. Three fail-safe tips that will come in handy next time you’re in your favourite bottle shop, restaurant or cellar door. Firstly, remember that the words port and liqueur are no longer used as unanimous terms for fortifieds and that in fact, there’s a huge range in Australia, let alone the world, to choose from. Next, work out if you want a bottle- or barrel-aged fortified and choose your favourite flavour profile.