The annual Big Fortified Tasting (bft) is already one of the highlights of London’s packed tasting circuit. Now in its 4th year it has rapidly become established as unmissable and an excellent opportunity to try fortified wines from around the world. Naturally Sherry and Port featured strongly but there are also southern France’s vins doux naturels, Madeira, a range from Australia, including Muscats from Rutherglen, as well as several companies from South Africa.
This year the media interest was directed at the opportunity to taste for the first time a big range of the just released 2011 Vintage Ports. I did taste a few 2011s at the end but instead preferred to concentrate on the Sherries and Manzanillas. Although tasting these fortified wines is fascinating and naturally make sure I spit everything out, there is always the danger of becoming light headed. This means a strict limit on how widely one can taste, so I usually largely limit myself to tackling the Sherries and Manzanillas.
This also reflects my bias as I find the wines of the Jerez region far more diverse and fascinating than I do Port. I rarely drink Port, while I do regularly buy Sherry, which to my mind is far more varied and versatile than its Portuguese counterpart.
At this year’s bft I was impressed by a number of small producers such as Equipo Navazos (http://www.equiponavazos.com/en/inden.htm), Viniberia, Bodegas Tradición (www.bodegastradicion.com) and Fernando de Castilla (http://www.fernandodecastilla.com). All making some lovely complex wines in particular some sensational Palo Cortados, which that amazing balance of richly textured but dry fruit coupled with remarkable and sometimes painful austerity. The intense La Bota No 34 Palo Cortado “Pata de Gallina” (Equipo Navazos) was sensational as was the Cayetano del Pino & Cia Palo Cortado Viejisimo (Viniberia) and the stunningly good Palo Cortado Tradición from Bodegas Tradición.
It wasn’t just the smaller companies that impressed: Gonzalez Byass chose to launch their 2013 release of their unfiltered Tio Pepe En Rama that has lovely intense, yeasty and citric aromas allied with delightful intensity in the finish. With a recommended retail price of around £15 or less, this is a bargain. Stockists include Lea & Sandeman offers a bottle for £13.94 or a case of 12 bottle for just £144.