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Top 10 fortified wines from the Global Masters

We count down the ten top-performing samples from db’s Fortified Masters competitions, taking in sensational wines from Australia to Portugal.

While today’s trends may be focused on finding low-calorie and reduced-alcohol options in the world of drinks, those in the wine trade know well that the ultimate in drinking pleasure comes at the opposite end of the spectrum: products that are richly flavoured, often sweet, and with a warming spirit-sourced edge to them. Such drinks are known collectively as fortified wines.

However, as with any category, even if home to some of the globe’s most delicious drinks, there are variations in style and quality, hence the need to asses them, using experience palates.

With this in mind, once again we held a Fortified Masters blind tasting earlier this year, as part of our Global Masters series, taking in key wine styles.

While this competition always sees a high medal count, we have picked out the top performers, those wines with plenty of personality, and a balancing spirit influence, rather than a dominating heat.

We’ve also added to these with a few fortifieds from former tastings to give a greater geographic scope for the following top 10.

So read on to find out which are the best of their types in a range of categories, from Port and Madeira to Sherry, taking in a broad sweep of regions and nations, including France, Spain and Portugal, and not forgetting Australia too.

Meanwhile, click here to find out the results in full from the Global Masters, and search under Fortified to see the medal-winners in this competition category.

10. Tio Pepe, Dos Palmas Fino, Jerez, Spain

This beautifully presented eight-year-old fino has it all: an inviting golden colour, an apple-scented freshness, a nutty, salty, tangy depth, and a deliciously dry finish. It’s just missing one thing: a bowl of pan-fried Marcona almonds (or a plate of cured jamón) – although that’s easily laid on as the ideal accompaniment.

9. Barão de Vilar, 20 Years Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal

While the great Port houses, from Noval to Graham’s and Taylor’s, produce first-rate tawnies, in this year’s Fortified Masters we came across a lesser-known name from the Douro. Barão de Vilar, a relative newcomer to the world of Port brands, provides a good value taste of a 20-year-old tawny style, with its dried fruit sweetness and gently warming, pleasantly drying finish.

8. Ramos Pinto, 20 Year Old Tawny, Quinta do Bom Retiro, Douro, Portugal

However, for something a notch up, this 20-year-old from Ramos Pinto was something of a revelation for our judges, such was its combination of flavours, from coffee and vanilla to apricot and grapefruit, as well as balance between oily sweetness and drying freshness. A fantastic example of its type.

7. Henriques & Henriques Madeira, Verdelho 20 year old, Portugal

Madeira is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing and instantly appealing experiences in the world of drinks, particularly when offered in an aged and relatively dry style – as the judges found with this wonderful 20-year-old Verdelho from respected maker Henriques & Henriques. Richly scented with burnt caramel and roasted nuts, but with a vibrant grapefruit tang, this seemingly dry wine would make a wonderful apéritif – simply chill it to maximise the moment.

6. Madeira Pereira d’Oliveira, Boal, 1988, Portugal

1987 Boal pictured

“Wow”. That was the first comment from the judges, having tasted this 30-year-old Boal from d’Oliveira. Richly sweet but with Madeira’s hallmark freshness, this is a lovely example of caramelised wine in peak condition. Ideal on its own, with cheese or fruit-based puddings.

5. De Bortoli Wines, Black Noble, Australia

Roasted coffee, toffee, sweet raisins and a touch of lemon-peel bitterness characterise this amazing, unctuous wine from Australia. Made using botrytised Semillon with a minimum of 10 years ageing in cask, it is a wine rich in dried fruit flavours, as well as the nutty complexity that comes from maturation for long periods in casks.

4. Bodegas Arfe, Palo Cortado de la Cruz de 1767, Jerez, Spain

If you love aged Sherry, then sampling this palo cortado from Bodegas Arfe is a must. With a delicious combination of grilled almonds, vanilla and raisins, along with a gently salty bright finish, this is an amazing aged dry Sherry from a producer that, uniquely in Jerez, specialises in the palo cortado style.

3. Bodegas Osborne, Very Old Sherry, Amontillado, Solera, AOS, Jerez, Spain

Amontilllado, when aged like this Very Old version from Osborne, provides an incredible array of flavours, from hazlenuts and raisins to apple and salted bread, along with an extraordinary texture – this is a wine with great depth that finishes with an appealing and appetising drying sensation. Really, there is nothing quite like this first-rate example of a wonderful, if relatively rare, fortified wine style.

2. Penfolds, Great Grandfather, Rare tawny, Australia

Over the years we have sampled some outstanding aged tawnies from Port country, including some wonderful Colheitas – from Cálem and Kopke in particular – but for those who want to try something a bit different, then this amazingly unctuous, weighty and very old tawny from Penfolds in Australia is a brilliant option. With so much power and sweetness it’s a pudding in itself, so just chill it, then sip it slowly on its own.

1. Gérard Bertrand, Legend Vintage Rivesaltes, 1974

Our oldest wine in this selection offers a taste of something that has been slowly maturing and concentrating in wooden casks for more than 50 years to bring you an incredibly rich and complex wine laden with flavours from honey and hazelnuts to raisins and dried figs. Hailing from Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales of southern France, this fantastic Grenache-based drink proves
the underrated quality of this fortified wine region.

About the competition

The Fortified Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions from Rioja to Chianti.

The competition is exclusively for fortified wines, and the entries were judged by highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.

The top fortified wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those entries that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Fortified Master.

For further information on the Global Masters, including how to enter, please call +44 (0)20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at:

About the tasting process

All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.

Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.

Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.

The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.

Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.

Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.

Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information.

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