I don’t usually say much about fortified beverages, including ports, cognacs, and brandy.
So, let’s do a little exploration, just to educate ourselves:
(From Winespeed) XO sauce is a luxe umami-rich condiment created by a chef at the exclusive Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, in the early 1980s. Named after the wildly popular and premium aged cognac (XO is slang throughout Hong Kong for anything of high quality considered a luxury), XO sauce is a complex combination of finely chopped dried shrimp and scallops (called conpoy), salty Chinese cured ham, shallots, garlic, chili, and oil—but no actual Cognac. Ubiquitous in southern Cantonese cooking, XO sauce is slathered on just about everything. But despite being nicknamed the “caviar of the Orient,” the sauce is often most delicious eaten alone with a simple bowl of noodles or rice. The chunky jam-like condiment takes hours to make and calls for pricy ingredients (just one pound of conpoy can cost up to $100). Fortunately, jarred versions are now available online and at Asian food markets—expect a price tag at least 10 times higher than soy sauce. (And of course, you know my Hazel story).
And a little update form Champagne, France: Potentially eight million of bottles of Champagne won’t ever become a reality thanks to a series of hailstorms that have devastated whole swaths of the region over the last several weeks. Some 2,500 acres of vines have been completely stripped of flowers that, had they survived and pollinated, would have become grapes.
What exactly is fortified wine? Fortified wine is wine that contains a distilled spirit, such as brandy. In addition to its higher alcohol content, fortified wine boasts a unique flavor and aroma that sets it apart from regular varieties. Still, both types share similarities, especially when it comes to their health benefits and potential downsides. Before modern refrigeration, fortified wine was produced in an attempt to prevent wine spoilage by increasing its alcohol content. Fortified wine is produced by adding distilled spirits to wine during or after fermentation. It’s available in both dry and sweet varieties, often served before or after meals or used in cooking. Any questions?
Here are the most common types of fortified wine:
- Port wine. This type originates in Portugal but is now produced worldwide. Brandy is added to the wine before it has finished fermenting, resulting in a sweeter flavor. (I love a good port!)
- Sherry. Sherry is available in several varieties based on the type of grapes used. Though it’s traditionally dry, it’s sometimes sweetened and served as a dessert wine.
- Madeira. Originating in the Portuguese Madeira Islands, this type is heated and oxidized by exposing it to air. Brandy is added at different times during fermentation, causing variations in flavors.
- Marsala. Marsala is a common cooking wine that’s fortified after fermentation, giving it a distinct dry flavor. It’s also sometimes sweetened, making it a great addition to dessert recipes. (We use it for chicken Marsala)
- Vermouth. Available both dry and sweet, vermouth is a fortified white wine that’s often flavored with herbs and spices like cloves and cinnamon. It’s also used to make cocktails like martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis.
I told you the story of scouring the countryside in Portugal for vintage ports. There is probably no better way to finish a great dinner than with some vintage port. It is not everyone’s “cup of tea” but it has become mine!!
More about port: You may have enjoyed this sweet-dry or semi-dry wine named after the seaport city of Porto. But a true port is exclusively distilled in Portugal’s Douro Valley. You’ll recognize one of its three names: Vinho do Porto, Oporto, or Porto. Pair it with cheese, chocolate, even a tasty custard tart. Either way, it’s a great excuse to say felicidades!
Of all the wines listed above, I think port is the easiest one to “learn” to drink. Small sips, paired with dark chocolate or a semi-sweet dessert, you will be hooked in just one or two sessions. Please give it a try! The colder weather, several holidays, and smaller parties are perfect opportunities to try these.