The final class of the WSET Intermediate Level course was this past Wednesday. After a short review of the past seven week’s, Jessica Bell led a lively discussion on the topic of fortified wines and spirits.
Fortified wines and spirits represent an extremely wide range of products so we could only cover a very small subset of this genre. Jessica put together a variety of sherries, ports and spirits, including a French Armagnac and a Scottish whiskey to give us a broad base for comparison.
Fortified wines like sherries and ports are made by adding neutral grape spirits to the wine either before or after the wines fermentation is complete. In the case of sherry, grape spirits are added after fermentation as stopped, so the wines are usually dry, but there are also numerous sweet versions. Ports, on the other hand, are always sweet because the fermentation process is stopped before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol. The grape spirits kill the yeast and boost the alcohol to around 20%.
Sherries are produced in the Spain, primarily in the regions of Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The processes used to create this wines are deliberately oxidative, exposing the wine to air, giving the wines are wonderful nutty character.
Traditionally and legally, Ports must come from Portugal, around the city of Oporto. However there are numerous examples being produced around the world in a similar manner. Many of these fortified wines are called “port” so it can be a little confusing when navigating through your local wine shop. To make matters more confusing, there are numerous types of port raging from ruby to tawny, vintage to late bottled vintage (LBV), traditional late bottled vintage to modern late bottled vintage. Each of these wines has a very different flavor profile and should be served differently.
Spirits are completely different than fortified wines and are made in most parts of the world. They are distilled rather than fermented and can be made from almost anything that contains sugar, so grapes are not necessary (except in the case of grape-based spirits like Cognac and Armagnac, to name a few). Spirits have a higher alcohol content, usually in the range of 40%. There are so many types of spirits that it would be impossible to list or discuss them all here. The Armagnac that Jessica selected was a good example of a grape-based spirit from France made from grape varieties like ugni blanc, colombard, folle blanche, and baco. The single malt scotch whiskey was an excellent example of a grain-based (barley) spirit from the Scottish highlands of Speyside.
Admittedly this was a very short introduction to fortified wines and spirits, but it gave us a good foundation for future study.
This brings us to the end of this course. It was a great experience that reinforced many of the things I already new, but opened my eyes to how much more there is to learn! If you want to learn about wine and and taste many examples from around the world, I would definitely recommend this course. Our final exam is next week. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
Wines and Spirits Tasted (Class 8):
- Pedro Romero Fino Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
- Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
- Smith Woodhouse 10-Year Tawny Port (Oporto, Portugal)
- Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (Southeast Australia)
- Château du Tariquet VSOP Armagnac (Armagnac, France)
- Balvenie Doublewood 12-Year Single Malt Scotch (Speyside, Highlands)