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Fortified wine is one of the great weapons to fight the chill of winter: Not only does the increased alcohol effectively (and deliciously) warm chilly bones, but the depth of flavors that the best of them boast is remarkable.
While the most famous fortified wines tend to be Port and Sherry, there are many others that are just as worthy of space on your wine rack or bar cart. Here are 15 standouts that will help make the winter just a little bit more pleasurable.
Cantine Florio Targa Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco Annata 2006
There are yogurt-like and fermentative aromas here that waft from the glass and permeate the room, all of it flecked with honey, maple syrup, and hints of well-aged Gouda. Salted white raisins and dried apricots are joined by sea-salt-sprinkled vanilla crème brûlée. Remarkable.
To buy: $32, artisanwinedepot.com
Cantine Florio Vecchioflorio Marsala Superiore Dry 2015
Aged for 30+ months in oak, this wine is beautifully nutty on the nose, with hazelnuts and roasted chestnuts joined by grilled nectarines, all of which set the stage for a bracing palate that is clearly bone dry, yet with sweeter-seeming flavors of salted caramel, toasted hazelnuts, and dried figs, finishing with cooked honey. This would make for a great aperitif.
To buy: $13, tableandvine.com
Chateau Les Pins Muscat de Rivesaltes 2018 Grand Cru du Roussillon
Aromas of spiced oranges and lemon marmalade are lifted by lemon blossoms and honeysuckle, and tee up flavors of lemon-drop candies, lemongrass, candied ginger, rose water, lychee, and white cardamom, as well as a finish marked by fennel seeds. Very elegant.
To buy: $19, 479wine.com
Croft Quinta da Roeda Vintage Port 2018
There is such freshness to the blueberry cobbler here, which is joined by aromas of sweet spice and a hint of plums, all setting the stage for a palate of a distinctly wine-like texture, the tannins assertive yet so elegant, and bringing a tea leaf character to the other flavors of plums, blackberries, cherry clafoutis, and sweet spice. Great now, but with plenty of aging potential.
To buy: $44, totalwine.com
Détente Red Vermouth
Bracingly dry, yet with a distinctly autumnal spice note pulsing through it all. The sarsaparilla, star anise, cinnamon, and clove takes the lead, and are fantastically informed by chamomile, cinchona, and orris root. This is one of those complex, exceptionally fascinating vermouths that will be just as excellent on its own, sipped over ice, as it would be in a Manhattan. The balance between sweetness and bracing dryness would make it a perfect single-ingredient addition to a Perfect Manhattan (which divides the vermouth into half sweet and half dry ratios).
To buy: $35, detentewines.com
Dow’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Transporting aromatics of sandalwood and incense are anchored by cigar humidor, caramel, and a hint of sultanas. These turn to a palate of impeccable balance, with white raisins, licorice, toasted fennel seeds, dried apricot, flamed orange peel, and Fig Newtons. Amazing value.
To buy: $36, winedeals.com
Eberle Winery Vintage Port 2015
This port-style fortified wine from Paso Robles leverages tinta roriz, touriga, and tinta madeira to craft a wine that smells of brandied cherries enrobed in chocolate ganache, black raisins, and licorice that all set the stage for a sweetly spiced and silky palate, tannic yet so elegant and with enough acidity to keep it fresh. The finish lingers with generous flavors suggesting blackberry conserve.
To buy: $60, eberlewinery.com
Familia Zuccardi Malamado Malbec
Overflowing with spiced grape compote aromas joined by hints of pie crust and sandalwood, this turns to a palate of similar character, with mulberries and mountain berries lifted by candied flowers, cherry pipe tobacco, and dusty tannins that make this very well suited to pairing with food…even game meats charred over a flame, especially given the lingering note of cinnamon stick and clove on the finish.
To buy: $22, winechateau.com
Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2018
There is a seamless dance here between savory notes of tar, cardamom, and singed vanilla pod, as well as a hint of star anise, and more generous fruit tones of black cherries, black raspberries, and spice cake, plus the distinct licorice note of the fortifying alcohol that also carries with it notable minerality. Texturally, this is full of coiled energy that promises a long life ahead, though it’s excellent right now. The wine hasn't yet hit the U.S. market but the 2015 vintage is currently available.
To buy: $45, jjbuckley.com
Gonzalez Byass Viña AB 12 Year Old Amontillado Seco
This smells like eating dulce de leche by the ocean, while someone cuts a fennel bulb off to the side: What a delicious and idiosyncratic Sherry! It’s unabashedly dry when sipped, with mouthwatering notes of orange pith, fennel bulb, Marcona almonds, and caraway seeds, especially on the finish. Bracing.
To buy: $24, totalwine.com
Graham’s Six Grapes Special River Quintas Edition Reserve Port
This reminds me of Raisinettes in the best possible sense, with the added complication of warm black licorice, dates, and fig syrup. There is a distinct savoriness on the finish, which provides an excellent counterpoint to the sweetness of the mid-palate, and it all resolves with the distinct freshness of spearmint.
To buy: $43, morewines.com
Quinta de la Rosa 20 Year Old Tawny Port
Pure silk in texture, with freshness and concentration to flavors of dried apricot, white raisin, candied orange and peach, gently toasted walnut, and caramel, all of it seamed through with propulsive minerality, finishing with a touch of chamomile and honey-sweetened Earl Grey tea.
To buy: $40, binnys.com
Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2018
The nose on this is absolutely show-stopping: Candied violets, lavender, floral pink peppercorns, fresh-picked mint, chocolate, and sweet licorice find a dusting of sweet spice and candied ginger to lift it to the stratosphere, and tee up flavors of perfectly balanced cherries, flamed orange peel, lavender that lingers through the finish, and dark-chocolate-covered orange peels.This is one of the finest young Ports I’ve tasted in recent memory, and promises to age for decades. The wine hasn't yet hit the U.S. market but the 2017 vintage is currently available.
To buy: $100, klwines.com
Terrassous Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel 6 Year Hors d’Age
Cinnamon-spiced dried apricots and nectarines join rum baba and honey-coated walnuts and hazelnuts, and turn to a palate of surprising acidity and freshness, with flavors of honey-coated almonds, caramel, hints of chamomile, and a distinct balsamic note on the finish.
To buy: $21, stirlingfinewine.com
Williams & Humbert Don Guido Pedro Ximenez Solera Especial Aged 20 Years
Dark and viscous in the glass, with aromas of Sen-Sen candies, chocolate, yeasty notes, strawberry compote, and carob. On the palate, this is tongue-coating, with fig syrup, molasses, maple syrup, dark chocolate-enrobed caramel, dates, and sugar-preserved oranges.
To buy: $50, klwines.com