Fortified wines before and after dinner, but during dinner? This concept has been promoted by Mannie Berk, a former resident of New Haven, where I live and run events for Wine Lovers of Conn. Back in the 80’s Mannie used to conduct tastings in his apartment on Academy Street and from there, launched his career as wine importer extraordinaire of Madeiras.He founded the Rare Wine Company with offices in Guilford, CT and Sonoma, CA.He has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, the Wine Enthusiast, Food & Wine, Forbes and the Wine Advocate which named him Wine Personality of the Year in ’02 and ’04.
Mannie almost singlehandedly has catapulted the category of fortified wines into new heights, inspiring chefs to pair fortified wines with food. The concept is by no means original. Consider the age old history of tapas- little bites of food, paired with sherry. The alcohol and acidity of fortified wines- madeira, sherry, port, Marsala- can be matched, claims Mannie, with a variety of foods.
Next week we have planned a 5 course menu from appetizers to dessert with 2 different main courses, each matched with a fortified wine. I’ll report on the results and reactions in a future blog.
Madeira, like port, is a fortified wine created by adding brandy during fermentation. The brandy stops the conversion of the grape sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. As a result the wine, like port, has about 18 percent sugar.
Unlike port, Madeira is heated by leaving it in casks for three years or more in the sweltering attics of the Madeira houses in Funchal, the island’s subtropical capital. The best casks are set aside as vintage wines, some not to be sold until they are 60 or 70 years old. Lesser wines are blended for sale at 5, 10 or 15 years of age.
Merchants learned in the 18th century that when Madeira was shipped in sailing vessels, the heat of the tropics and the motion of the ships enhanced the wine’s mellowness and richness.