How to Drink Fortified Wines in the Morning
In my last column, I talked about the best sparkling wines to drink at breakfast. Now, to counterbalance those light, relatively low alcohol beginnings, there needs to be consideration of the more powerful, resounding breakfast drinks: Madeira, Marsala, Sherry and Port. These wines are called fortified wines because they have a distilled spirit added either during or after their fermentation. They are the perfect match for eleven o’clock snacking. If you head to St John Bread & Wine around this time, you can enjoy a glass of Madeira and a slice of seedy cake (a rich sponge cake made with caraway seeds), which is one of life's best food and wine combinations.
Madeira is an enchanting wine, made - unsurprisingly - on the island of Madeira and in a unique way. Usually, wine is kept in very dark and cool conditions while it ages, but Madeira is deliberately stored in warm, light spaces so that the water evaporates, therefore concentrating the wine and creating more space for oxygen to interact with it. Although it is a more alcoholic, stronger wine, it does not feel heavy; the acidity is high, running through the wine like invisible strings on a puppet, keeping intensely rich aromas and flavours in line so that the drink never becomes syrupy but stays refreshing. There are four traditional styles, ranging from dry to sweet, made from four different grape varieties: the Dry Sercial, the Medium Dry Verdelho, Medium Sweet Bual (Boal) and Sweet Malmsey. The dry and medium dry work wonders with a cold chicken sandwich and stuffing, the sweeter styles are wonderful with cake and both work beautifully with hard and blue cheeses: it is a perfect brunch picnic wine.
Port seems like such a substantial recommendation for morning sipping, but a white port (made from white grapes) with ice and tonic really invigorates the system, perhaps after a bacon sandwich. A chilled Ruby Port, the most simple of all the ports, aged for the least time in cask and bottle, has an accommodating, easygoing sweetness, and gentle tannins that beg for a slice of pork pie. Tawny port, served chilled, would sit well next to a plate of warm biscuits, especially if they were coated with dark chocolate.
At eleven o’clock in Jerez, there are queues outside the bars. Sherry may be slightly higher in alcohol than your average table wine, but that alcohol is so balanced and the wine so refreshing and the midday sun in Southern Spain so hot, nothing hits the spot quite like a cold glass of Fino or Manzanilla. On day two of my visit to Jerez, I found myself in one of those queues, curious to see how the wine would go down that bit earlier than I'd usually consider drinking it back home. But, so resounding was the triumph, on a hot day in London I now crave Fino, it is a great mid-morning drink. It is bone dry with an addictive, salty tang that weirdly seems to rehydrate rather than dehydrate. Fino and Manzanilla are the pale lemon coloured Sherries, made without any contact with oxygen, thanks to a blanket of (good) bacteria that forms on the surface of the wine. They are the best brunch match for eggs cooked with tomatoes and chorizo and toast and avocado with a pinch of chilli.
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Attribution: Image by Gary J. Wood, cropped