Trade wars, punitive tariffs imposed by one nation on another, and even preferential trading agreements all seem so political and technical. Yet they can influence how we eat and drink.
Did you know that bacalhau, the dried cod we associate with Portugal, doesn’t come from its own shores? The sea is too warm. In the early days, the fresh cod for salting came from England thanks to a 14th century preferential trading agreement between the two countries. The deal was that in return, the English could buy Portuguese wines at very accessible prices. In truth, the English mostly preferred French wines but in 1693, when King William III forbade the importation of French wines, merchants started looking to Portugal more seriously.
When they went inland to the now famous Douro Valley to find alternatives, they found that adding brandy would successfully stabilise the wines for the homeward journey. But then they learned of a better way - adding brandy during, rather than after fermentation. By arresting fermentation, the result was a sweeter, altogether more palatable wine. And so, port, as we know it, was born, taking its name from the city of Oporto, from which the wine was shipped to reach England.
We call port a fortified wine, because its alcohol by volume (ABV) is strengthened by adding spirit. Such wines can age superbly over decades. Each passing year brings depth and complexity to their aromas, flavours, and even to palate weight and texture.
South Africa, a Commonwealth nation, was introduced to port via England. But today the European Union (EU) forbids the use of the term port for any fortified wine in this style produced outside of Portugal’s Douro region.
Locally, we make our “port”-style wines from blends of such grapes such as Tinta Barocca, Touriga Franca, Touriga Naçional and other Portuguese varieties but other cultivars are permitted.
We use a range of port-substitute names, depending on the style. Cape Pink and Cape White are matured for at least six months and are made from non-Muscat grape varieties. Cape Ruby is full and fruity in style, with at least 50% matured for six to 36 months. Cape Vintage is full-bodied and aged for at least a year. Cape Late Bottled Vintage is also full-bodied. At least 85% must come from a single vintage year, aged for at least three years. Cape Tawny must have 80% of the blend wood-matured, while Cape Dated Tawny is a single-vintage tawny.
Whether port in style or not, all South African fortified wines are wines that have had their ABV raised to between 15% and 22% by adding spirit, usually brandy.
Other local fortified wines include Hanepoot, made from Muscat d’Alexandrie. Jerepigo is a red or white wine produced without fermentation – grape juice is fortified with grape spirit, which prevents fermentation. Muscadel wines are made from Muscat Blanc or Muscat Rouge. Spanish-style fortified wines (where fortification of dry wine takes place after fermentation) can no longer be termed sherries according to EU legislation. They are marketed here as Amontillado, Oloroso, Pale Dry, Pale Cream, Medium Cream, Full Cream and Old Brown.
But let’s not forget natural sweet, unfortified noble late harvest wines, pioneered in South Africa by Nederburg and made from grapes attacked by botrytis cinerea (noble rot) that dehydrates the grapes and concentrates their sweetness. It was a noble late harvest wine made by cellar master Günter Brözel that earned him and South Africa the first Robert Mondavi International Winemaker of the Year trophy in 1985. Every vintage since is made in the style Brözel achieved, marrying rich, luscious fruit with vibrant acidity for balance.
Fortified and noble late harvest wines are the most heart-warming, mouth-filling and delicious way of combatting the winter chill.
What could be better than a noble late harvest paired with chocolate fondant!
RECIPE: CHOCOLATE FONDANT
250g dark chocolate
125g castor sugar
5 egg yolks
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. Melt the chocolate and butter together. Whisk the eggs, yolks and castor sugar and combine well. Add the chocolate and butter mixture. Fold in the flour and mix to a smooth batter. Spray 8 dariole moulds. Pour the chocolate mixture into the moulds, until each is 3/4 full. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the tops are just firmed. Remove from the oven and turn them out on individual plates. Serve with vanilla ice cream, and chilled Nederburg The Winemasters Noble Late Harvest.