When it's pouring with rain and the damp chills you to the bone, forget what month the calendar says — just reach for the fortified wine, says Harry Eyres.
August might seem an odd month to be contemplating fortified wines, but as the current weather proves it can be a grim and damp time of year — particularly in the north and west of these isles.
I have lit fires in August and, when we used to go on holiday to Applecross in Wester Ross (with those wonderful views across to the Cuillins), we were always accompanied over the Pass of the Cattle by a bottle or two of tawny Port.
The classic fortified wines — sherry, Port and Madeira — are all ‘wine families’ encompassing a wide range of styles, from the lightest fino or manzanilla and the finest sercial Madeira to heroic vintage Port. They all come from hot countries, so there’s no rule outlawing a slightly higher level of alcohol in warm conditions.
I am increasingly baffled by the apparent prejudice against and misunderstanding of sherry. Time and again, fino or manzanilla seems the right choice, either to accompany fishy dishes or just as an aperitif. I never tire of Hidalgo’s notably fresh, light-footed and tangy Manzanilla La Gitana (£11.19; www.waitrosecellar.com).
If you prefer a slightly more full-bodied style, go for Barbadillo’s Solear (£5.95 per 37.5cl; www.thewinesociety.com).
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At a recent Madeira tasting, I found myself veering towards the Verdelhos. Henriques & Henriques 15-year-old Verdelho (£28.60 per 50cl; www.hedonism.co.uk) is a lovely, deep-copper colour, with exceptional focus and intensity, and finishes far from sweet.
For a very special occasion, try Blandy’s 1979 Verdelho (£140; www.landmarkvintage.com) — this shows gorgeous delicacy and finesse.
I’ve tended to avoid white Port, except in Portugal, because of its lack of acidity, but Calem White and Dry Port (right, £11.75; www.thewinesociety.com) is attractively fresh. Serve chilled when — or rather if — August warmth returns.
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