A Sommelier’s job is more than just knowing which are the perfect wines made from grapes. To not know, for example, how Cinzano, Madeira, Sherry, Port and so many other fortified wines are made would mean you are not a well versed sommelier. We call them fortified because these beverages are not only made of grapes. These include Vermouth, Sherry, Madeira or Brandy, Cognac and Armagnacs and others.
Actually my love for wine started with Vermouth and Sherry. Vermouth is a wine that is made as an aromatised fortified wine but flavoured with various botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices. Later one can add sugar or caramelised sugar. It all depends on the style. If it should be dry, then no sugar should be added. I would say the most famous fortified wines are the Martini-Cinzano series and Nouilly Prat (for the kitchen) but there are also others. Sherry on the other hand is made like Port wine, but mostly as white with a system called Solera – several levels of barrels are placed in a room and where the youngest is on top and the oldest below. This means the Sherry on the top, over time, ends at the bottom. These Sherries are called Solera Sherries where as you also have Sherries which have been made in single barrels from the same year.
Why did I fall in love with this mixed wine drink actually? I was in my 20’s, the years where you find out what kind of alcohol you like (and what you don’t!). What makes you drunk and how long does it take to become drunk. My worst drunkenness in all my life was with the well know Jägermeister, a sweet herb liquor and I was only 15 at the time. But, never did I ever get attached to this, which means, those herbal liquor wines like Benedictine or Fernet are not on my list of favourites to be drunk these days. Regarding the Cinzano Bianco – the sweet version – I like to say that one could lure girls to their place with this, in Bars and discos. It was actually in the 70’s and beginning of the 80’s when this drink was considered to be the best beverage for getting to know the feminine side and I had great times with this. I even would go so far to say that all beginners of future wine connoisseurs, should start with a Martini Bianco or Rosso and then go to the Demi sec and sec wines before joining the big group of dry wines in our wine world. And another important aspect is that this wine is that it it isn’t too taxing – at least, back in the day, it was never that expensive.
Nevertheless I have to mention here too, that the real success of this kind of fortified wine, are the Vermouth, which belongs to a circle of Cocktails. Who does not know of todays Martini dry cocktails known as Manhattans or Americanos, Bronx, Gibson, Negroni and Rob Roy? These are Vermouth Cocktails and are available in all high class bars around the bar world.
To know these Vermouths is a must for everybody who does work in Restaurants because they are, in a way, the back bone of a drink list and without them the list would feel incomplete. It would be like a wine list without Champagne. And another important aspect we should see here is, not many restaurants actually have a sweet wine on the wine list, therefore a Martini, Cinzano, sweet Sherry or Port wine is a great alternative to suggest.
Now, Port wine on the other hand is made in the same way as Vermouth but no herbs or other ingredients other than wine and alcohol is involved. These wines are on good wine lists and are important for Sommeliers to know, especially when a Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola is served. The availability of these are also important in reputable restaurants as all good chefs like to cook with Port wine to produce a Port wine gravy or Gelee/Sulze or infused Foie Gras Terrine with Port and so on.
The best known Port wines are Rubys and Tawnys, which are of good quality. These Port wines are 3 to 5 years old and matured in oak. They are the everyday drink of a retired lady (especially in France) or used in the kitchen and the bar around the corner. In the higher class segments of gastronomy, in the fine dining areas or at home, you will find great Port wines – the one that gone through some qualifications and tasting rounds. Here we speak of Vintage Ports, the emperor of Port wine but also the very old Tawnys which are often up to 50 years old (just imagine 50 years in a barrel). Other quite famous Ports are called ”Late Bottled Vintage” (LBV for short), Colheita, Single Quinta Vintage Port and others. The world of Port wine is as interesting as Champagne or Cognac.
Next time, I will go into more detail about my true love – the Brandy, Cognac and Armagnac, also including Calvados and Fruit Brandies!
Cheers to the world of Wines, where Connoisseurs normally do not talk as much.
Harald Wiesmann, Restaurant Manager of the fine dining, Asian-inspired Haute Cuisine Kayuputi and Chief Sommelier at The St. Regis Bali Resort, has a very interesting career history spanning a number of years with different roles in various countries. His 43 years of international experience has led Kayuputi to receive prestigious awards from the Wine Spectator Magazine (USA) for six consecutive years since its opening six and a half years ago, and dubbed as a fine restaurant that has one of the best wine lists in the Asian region. Harald is set to publish his book, titled “Wine and Dine at St. Regis Bali Resort” in the near future.