After this interminable, bone-chilling winter, has the approach of summer ever been so welcome? I’m guessing it’s pretty unanimous, at least on the East Coast, that we’re all eager to burn our parkas and head to the beach already. Now, what to read? With the growing popularity of fortified wines, a new crop of books has been published (some updated and reissued) on sherry, madeira and port. Whether you’ve been meaning to finally get your amontillados straight from your manzanillas or want some guidance on buying vintage ports these are the best reference books available. And, while you’re honing your fortified wine knowledge you might as well enjoy a glass of what you’re reading about. Here then are the best books on fortified wines along with recommended pours.
Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes (2014) by Talia Baiocchi Ten Speed Press, $24.99
Even if you never read a word of Talia Baiocchi’s guide to sherry just perusing the gorgeous photos is likely to inspire a craving for a glass of fino if not trigger a sudden urge to check airfares to Spain. It’s an eye-catching book, a lovely little object d’art whose presence in anyone’s drinks library will signify its owner as very au courant on the wine scene. It is, however, also a book worth reading as it happens to be chock full of useful information about the different styles of sherry and how each is made. You can also read about the history, towns and bodegas, as well as find recipes for cocktails and a few southern Spanish dishes.
Baiocchi is the editor of the online drinks magazine PUNCH and writes from a personal vantage point with a fun, lively tone. My only quibble is with the cocktail section. I know all the mixologists are doing it these days, and she has enlisted the help of some of the best bartenders out there, but I confess that I’m a purist. Sherries are delicious wines in their own right, and it pains me to think of them mixed with rum or tequila among a myriad other things. It’s maybe not as cringe-worthy as mixing Coke and Chateau Latour, but close. Perhaps by integrating it into the current cocktail craze more sherry will be sold, but I don’t think it does sherry’s reputation any favors in the long run. That aside, this is a well-researched enjoyable book and well deserving of its nomination as a James Beard award finalist.
What to drink: Fino Inocente from Valdespino, $23.99 (750 ml); Barbadillo Manzanilla Solear En Rama Primavera, $15.99 (375 ml).
Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A guide to the traditional wines of Andalucia by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín (2012) Manutius, $29.95
Ever wonder which strains of yeast make up the flor in biologically aged sherries? How about the calcium carbonate content of Jerez’s albariza soil? Then this is the book for you. Not all the information in this book is that technical, but the content is definitely targeted toward serious oenophiles, sommeliers and those in the trade. Published two years ago, this was the first new sherry book to come out in a decade and was received with universal praise and a sigh of relief “at last.” It’s a thorough and authoritative exploration of the history, wines, soils, and bodegas of the Jerez region. What the book lacks in color photos, it more than makes up for with in-depth information.
Although Peter Liem gained a following for his expertise on Champagne, he has been an extraordinary champion for sherry and is a co-founder of Sherryfest, an annual tasting event in New York, San Francisco and Toronto. His co-author, Jesús Barquín, is one of the principals of Equipo Navazos, a relatively new sherry label (basically a negoçiant that buys individually selected aged wines from bodegas), which has developed a cult-like following. Together they bring both a breadth and depth of knowledge to the subject. If you have a serious interest in sherry this is a must.
What to drink: Equipo Navazos La Bota de Amontillado #37, $67.97 (750 ml); Bodegas Tradicion Palo Cortado VORS, $99.95 (750 ml).
Madeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine (2014) By Alex Liddell Hurst & Company, $29.95
Hard on the heels of the recent sherry renaissance comes the revival of yet another fortified wine that also spent decades languishing in the back of liquor cabinets everywhere: madeira. As with sherry, up-to-date publications have lagged behind the wine’s popularity and are therefore pretty scant. Thankfully, Alex Liddell has revised and reissued his thorough, authoritative book “Madeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine,” which was first published in 1998. Liddell began his career in academia and brings a scholarly approach to the subject. The result is a thorough, meticulously researched book.
The island of Madeira, situated in the Mid-Atlantic, provided the perfect stopping off point for ships sailing to North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa or points further east such as India and the Spice Islands. Madeira wine became a popular commodity. It was, in fact, the very act of shipping wines on long, hot journeys that created the style of Madeira wines as we know them today. Liddell not only tells this story wonderfully, he also delves into the soil, grapes, viticulture, vinification and the producers. There is enough basic information here to entice the amateur enthusiast but it also has the level of detail for professionals.
What to drink: Blandy’s 1998 Colheita Sercial, $54.99 500 ml.; Broadbent 10 year old Bual, $39.99, 500 ml.
Port and the Douro (2013) By Richard Mayson Infinite Ideas, $50
Whether or not you are a long-time port collector or struggle to discern an LBV from a colheita, Richard Mayson’s “Port and the Douro” is an indispensable guide to the region’s fortified wines. He’s been in the wine business for more than 30 years and written numerous books on port, madeira and the wines of Iberia as well as making his own wine in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. The last few decades have seen a lot of changes in the Douro and Mayson has been there chronicling every development. In this third edition we’re brought right up to 2011.
Mayson begins with the fascinating history of the region, which was originally settled by the Romans, and the beginnings of the Port trade, which flourished as a result of war between England and France. He provides a thorough description of the numerous grape varieties allowed in Port as well as the viticulture and vinification processes. He provides information on some of the major quintas and for those with a deep interest in vintage ports, he provides an invaluable account of vintages from 2011 back to 1844.
What to drink: 2008 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port, $19.00, 750 ml; Quinta do Noval Black, $19.97, 750 ml.
We’ve known since the age of the Aztecs that chocolate is the food of love, so what could be more romantic on the day we celebrate that special someone than sharing a box of luscious truffles or a gooey chocolate cake. The more pressing question is what wine to pair with it? Chocolate can be tricky since it comes in so many variations, from creamy milk chocolate to bittersweet and dark. Complicating the matter is that chocolate is often mixed with fruit or caramel. One wine, however, that complements the full range of chocolate confections is Malmsey Madeira.
Madeiras are fortified wines from the eponymous Portuguese island, which lies a little more than 500 km west of Morocco. The wines are made in the same way as port, meaning grape spirit is added to the fermenting must, leaving some residual sugar and upping the alcohol level. Though while all ports are sweet Madeiras range in style and sweetness depending on the grape variety and aging. At the drier, lighter end of the spectrum are wines made from Sercial and Verdelho grapes, while the sweeter, richer wines are made from the Bual and Malvasia (Malmsey) varieties. What makes Madeira wines so unique, however, is that while every other winemaker in the world tries to protect their wines from the heat, in Madeira, heat is the secret ingredient.
Some time in the 17th century while the Portuguese where conquering distant lands they discovered that the wine they stocked up in Madeira became much more stable and delicious when cast about on the sun-scorched deck of a ship for months at a time. They quickly figured out, however, that they needn’t actually send the barrels of wine on ships to attain the same result, and today the wines are either heated in a large stainless steel tanks (for less expensive wines) or left in oak barrels in heated attics, sometimes for decades.
In a Malmsey Madeira all that heat shows itself in the wine in both taste and color. The longer the wine is aged in barrel the darker and richer the wine. This particular 15 year old Blandy’s has a dark amber hue and a full body with a complex array of flavors, such as caramel, toffee and raisins. There is also a pleasantly surprising streak of orange rind and clove. As with all Madeira wines there is a tongue tingling acidity, which balances out the sweetness and makes this wine so refreshing and food friendly, especially when you need to cut through the richness of chocolate. They make an ideal pair.
Blandy’s 15-Year-Old Malmsey Madeira, 500ml, $39.95