National Post

fix my drink

Each week in this space, we better our beverages together.

- By Adam McDowell Weekend Post

The associatio­n between the Christmas season and fortified wine dates back at least to Dickens’ day, -which is not to say the trad ition has been honoured with consistent fervour ever since. With fortified wine finding itself trendy for the first time since — oh, I don’t know, 1904? — perhaps it’s time to toast the old tradition again?

The one fortified wine that never really sank into the deepest oblivion ( unlike, say, sherry or marsala) is port. Many of us usually find this deep red-purple stuff too rich and cloying. Thankfully this is a problem you can buy your w- ay out of: high- quality, rela tively expensive port can hold the possibilit­y of converting the port-skeptics, at least when i-t offers a characteri­stic quo tient of complexity and acidic dryness — a peek of sunshine through purple clouds of rich fruit. Croft Vintage 2011 ($ 70 in Ontario for a 375- millilitre b- ottle), for example, is a sym phony: perfume and brandy, s- weet citrus, a hint of choco latey smoke. W& J Graham’s Vintage Port 2011 ( spotted at $ 120 in Alberta) gave me d- ried fruit, apple, a soft tex ture and a long, warm finish but I’m not sure I understand the value propositio­n.

To secure bang for the buck, Taylor Fladgate First Estate Re-serve performs exceptiona­l ly well at $17 (in Ontario). It’s boisterous, with lots of fruit ( but not cloying fruit, which is key), acidity and tannins. This port would work well at a party, because I doubt you need to really contemplat­e it to enjoy it, and if you’re putting out a bunch of port for your regular schmo friends it might not be wise to waste pricey bottles on them. Another af- fordable Taylor Fladgate port, the Late Bottled Vintage 2010, is fresh, perfumed, and grapey, another good value buy at $18 ( Ontario). Climbing back up in price a little, Fonseca Late Bottled Vintage 2009, at $ 22 (Ontario), serves up the deep, dessert- like sweetness that people seem to appreciate.

Madeira, always secondfidd­le to port between the two fortified wine styles of Portugal, is only slowly resurfacin­g now after at least a century of lying dormant. Like Spain’s sherry, madeira is really a range of wines made in a particular place ( Madeira is a pretty island off the west coast of Africa) and w- ith some common characteri­stics, notably being aged in d-eliberatel­y steaming hot ware houses called “estufas.”

Among Canadian provinces, y-ou’ll have the best luck sniff ing out madeira in Quebec; m-ore trouble elsewhere. Wher ever you live, a generic port like Henriques & Henriques Reserve 5 Year O-ld or Justino Hen riques can give you some sense o- f the nice balance of sweet ness and sunshiney acid that makes madeira such a pleasant pre-dinner drink, especially if lightly chilled. An even tastier madeira to serve this way, if you can find it, is Leacock’s Dr-y Ser cial 5 Years Old, which smells of peaches, pears and salty air. Its woody-sweet finish would appeal to the fan of medium sherry. Meanwhile drinkers in Quebec are lucky to be able to buy Barbeito Boal Reserva, which pours a beautiful rose gold colour (why, it’s the trendy hue of 2015!), which strikes an e-legant balance between sweet ness and acidity and smells of pecans. Consider turning it into a new Christmas tradition — if you can get your hands on it.

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