February 2012

Fortified Wine



When it comes to grouping wine into flights—wines consumed in a particular order—Maxwell Leer, the former wine director of the Bazaar by José Andrés, is like an explorer eager to take an expeditionary force on a journey of discovery. Here, he has assembled a flight of five fortified wines.

These days, fortified wines are afflicted with the stigma of being stodgy, overly sweet tipples. Leer’s selections, however, are definitively on the dry side, highly complex and certainly worthy of a fresh look, as the flight progresses from bright and refreshing to deeper and more cerebral. He begins with three picks that could be described as vins de soif—everyday sippers perfect for quenching the thirst.

Each is eminently drinkable (chilled, please) and accompanies food beautifully. His fourth and fifth choices are quite a bit more intense and best suited for the end of a meal, when diners are more prone to reverie and relaxation. Leer’s tasting notes for each come with a catchphrase based on the old-world tradition of the nome di fantasia (fantasy name), which evokes the human experience of a wine and unquestionably takes us somewhere. This is a flight, after all.

1. FAMILLE L. DUPONT POMMEAU DE NORMANDIE, Victot-Pontfol, France:  GRAPE: Mostly bittersweet apples, the majority of which are Binet Rouge, must fortified with apple brandy (Calvados)  FLAVOR: Clean Viking apple, quiet sweetness, husk cherry, almond  CATCHPHRASE: Down the hatch.

2. BODEGAS GRANT FINO SHERRY LA GARROCHA, El Puerto Santa María, Spain:  GRAPE: Palomino Fino (Listán Blanco)  FLAVOR: Sweet yeast, then acid, barley fruit, calm tannin, walnut  CATCHPHRASE: Dancing with horses.

3. BODEGAS HIDALGO AMONTILLADO SHERRY NAPOLEON, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain:  GRAPE: Palomino Fino  FLAVOR: Valencia orange, bacon, bitter maple-syrup tannin  CATCHPHRASE: Breakfast.

4. JOSTO PUDDU 1980 VERNACCIA DI ORISTANO, S. Viro Milis, Italy:  GRAPE: Vernaccia di Oristano  FLAVOR: Deglet Noor date, Meyer lemon, salted caramel...endless  CATCHPHRASE: Aurora borealis.

5. MAURO VERGANO AMERICANO, Piemonte, Italy:  GRAPE: Grignolino d'Asti  FLAVOR: Light molasses, cacao, maraschino cherry, grapefruit rind, firm  CATCHPHRASE: Der schlaftrunk ("sleep drink" in German).