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Blog du Vin

Fortified Wines - Central Heating for the Soul
by Olly Smith

Hipflasks are portable generators, packed with flavour and a dynamo of warming liquor to sip when the weather starts to bite. Fortified wines are a tremendous source to fill up from and are among the most generously flavoured and glowing sips in the entire canon of vinography… which incidentally is a word that I have never used before and was inspired entirely by the bronze glass of tawny port winking at me from across the table. Madeira, Port and Sherry are three famous categories that all deserve an outing to your glass this festive season and coupled with the convivial welcome in The Hotel du Vin, they are drinks that create a golden allure whether it's a sip after work, an aperitif or a digestif after a top feast. And I haven't even mentioned yet that they also offer tremendous value for money.

Take Wiese & Krohn Colheita for example, which I served at my first Hotel du Vin wine dinner in Birmingham recently. It was a huge hit with the diners thanks to its generous sultana-like sweetness and enthralling whiskers of woody spice. Currently a 1998 bottle will set you back £37 on the wine list for you to enjoy in one of the Hotel du Vin's thriving bars. That's a crafted wine that's been carefully aged in barrel for over a decade from a region in Portugal that's so prized it's a UNESCO heritage site - and you can share an entire bottle of this glory for the equivalent price of four cinema tickets served to you in style. As far as tawny port goes, it's one of my favourite fortified wines to serve with Stilton and it's a good shout too with Christmas pudding or indeed a slice of Christmas cake or a mince pie. But if you're after the sweet mellow spice and generous black fruit thrill of a Late Bottled Vintage Port or even a Vintage from a single year, Quinta de Noval LBV 2005 and Warre Cavadinha Vintage Port 1996 are both great shouts on the Hotel du Vin's list. And they are mighty fine drinks to unwind with, layered with complexity and powerful deep flavours thanks to the addition of grape spirit which stops the fermentation early and retains the sweetness of the grapes' natural fruit. Of course if you feel like a brighter sip of sweet fortified glory, Els Pyreneus Muscat de Rivesaltes is fragrant, floral and luscious made by highly talented Jean-Marc Lafage. Or for an exotic sip from off the beaten track, the fortified glory of Alcyone Tannat from Uruguay reminds me of the very essence of sweet cherries and a surge of sweet vanilla. Amazing with dark chocolate, it's a sweet, sensuous dose of red fruit glory. And once of the most fabulous things about these wines is that a little goes a long way thanks to their mighty concentrated bursts of flavour. Happily, they are all available by the glass, both large and small - perfect for sipping when the frost's been nipping at your heels.

For Christmas gift ideas from signed copies of Olly's books with handwritten personal messages to Olly's Decanter and dishwasher-friendly wine glass, visit