Ports, Sherries, and After-dinner Dessert Drinks
Want to drink your dessert tonight but having trouble deciphering that hard-to-read, foreign-sounding, complicated after-dinner drink list at your favorite restaurant? Max Zander is here to help you navigate the word of ports, sherries, and madeiras. Drink up.
Restaurants love to sell desserts, but so much of the eating public is into skipping desserts in favor of just coffee and then going out to some bar and lapping up the same calories in drinks. Save the extra trip and examine your restaurants’ lists to discover their dessert wines.
Probably the most often offered dessert wines by restaurants would be ports. What are ports? Ports are just wines which have been fortified by adding brandy to inhibit the final fermentation and raise the alcohol content of the final product. Ports usually run about 20% alcohol by volume, or almost twice the normal amount as compared to a table wine.
Ports are divided into two categories: Ruby and Tawny. Ruby ports are fresh, young, very purple and sweeter than other types. Tawny ports are aged, lighter, browner and less sweet than their counterpart. Tawny ports can run the gamut of age years; 10-, 20-, or even up to 40-year-old Tawnies are available.
Ports are also divided into proprietary names, late bottle vintage, and vintage ports. Proprietary names would include names such as Graham’s Six Grapes. Other famous names to look for would be Fonesca, Taylor Fladgate, Dow and Croft. Vintage ports are usually the most expensive, since vintages are declared only about four or five times a decade. Late bottled vintage ports are those that are not quite good enough for a declared vintage year. Ports are a marvelous way to end a dinner. They match up with a cheese and fruit plate or even just a cup of coffee.
Then there are Sherries. Sherry is made pretty much with the same process as port, with the addition of brandy to raise the wine’s alcohol content. Fino Sherry is perfectly dry and drinks just like a dry white dinner wine, except for the alcohol content. Tio Pepe is a prime example. Finos have a subcategory of Amontillado, shipped to the United States with a slightly sweet background. A good example of that has a proprietary name of Dry Sack. Then there is the Oloroso category, which would include the sweet side of Sherries, such as Armada Cream from Sandeman. While it is often used as an aperitif before dinner, it is really unfair to drink before dinner because sweets defile the palate and make it more difficult to enjoy that which the chef might prepare on the non-sweet side.
Next we have Madeiras. The popularity of Madeira in Britain can be traced to our founding fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, both of whom were partial to Madeira wine. Madeira does well in cooking and often replaces Marsala in some dishes, particularly chicken and veal. There are two major types seen in local restaurants—Malmsey and Rainwater, the former being the sweeter. Madeira wines are very long-lived, and here and there you may find an offering of a wine that is over 100 years old. Some of the better-known brands would include Sandeman and Blandy’s.
The United States, among many other countries, makes both ports and Sherries. New York State is certainly the leading producer. Their products bear the name of the type of wine contained therein, such as Tawny Port, or Cream Sherry, Madeira, etc. Australia also offers a myriad of ports, usually under proprietary names such as Penfold’s Grandfather’s Port and Hardy’s Whiskers Blake.
These are all perfect after-dinner drinks. They provide an enjoyment that is different from the other wines that may be offered in various restaurants in town. As the saying goes, “You pays your money and makes your choice.” After-dinner drinks also might include Single Malt Scotches, but that will have to wait for another day.