Category Archives: Fortified

Duparc Pineau des Charentes “White”

Pineau des Charentes AOC, France; 17% ABV
imported by Halby Marketing, Sonoma, CA
$5 for 375ml at the Richmond, CA, store

When I ordered this, I thought it was just some French white wine I’d never heard of.  When it arrived, I was completely baffled, so I looked up Pineau des Charentes in Wikipedia: It is “a regional French aperitif … a fortified wine (mistelle or vin de liqueur), made from either fresh, unfermented grape juice or a blend of lightly fermented grape must, to which a Cognac eau-de-vie [twice-distilled spirits] is added and then matured.”  So, of course, I had to try one.

I think this is delicious!  It’s sweet from the fresh grapes, but a little less sweet than a dessert wine.  I’m not satisfied with my description here, but what comes to mind is honeysuckle / honey and yellow-grapey canned oranges, peaches, and pears.  The flavor of purified alcohol is also prominent.  I prefer it chilled.  For me, at least, this aperitif, with its delicious sweetness and high alcohol content, is a bit dangerous.  🙂


Graham Beck 2011 Rhona Muscadel sweet dessert wine

made from Muscat de Frontignan and named for the proprietor’s wife
produced and bottled by Graham Beck Wines, Robertson, South Africa; 16.5% ABV
$6 for 500ml at the Richmond, CA, store on 15 July.  We got only 12 bottles.

GrahamBeck_2011_RhonaMuscadelI was very excited when I saw these bottles, as it’s quite rare that the GO gets a dessert wine.  However, it’s not a typical dessert wine, in that it’s fermented on the skins for a while and then fortified (video).  While it’s not as exciting as its lovely appearance, it is a pretty tasty sweet wine for the price.

Like a couple ports I’ve reviewed here, this wine’s flavors (and acid) came out more after it had been open a few days.  (I took only small pours each day.)  Now, the wine shows flavors of golden grape / raisin, apricot, hints of orange peel, balancing acid, and an edge of caramel / roasted nut on the finish.  I couldn’t taste any Botrytis, but it bears enough of a resemblance to my memory of Tokaji to be entertaining.

Jodar Late-Bottled (non-vintage) Port

El Dorado, CA; 19% ABV
$8 at the Richmond, CA, store on 28 Dec

Jodar_ElDorado_PortThis Port-style wine from the Sierra Foothills seemed like a promising Grocery Outlet find, and indeed, it’s delicious.

Similarly to the Woodbridge 2001 Portacinco, this wine is apparently made from traditional Portuguese varietal grapes (Jodar Winery’s Black Bear port is likely made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, and Touriga Francesa) in a way that reflects the local terroir, and also only fully revealed itself on its third night open.  The first two nights were pretty good, but tonight it’s especially good.

The wine tastes in equal measure of purple grape, ripe / dried red cherries / strawberries / raspberries, and tangy brown earth, with abundant complexities of raisin and aromatic spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, slight black pepper).  Darrel commented: “Tried the port and does drink without much burn for 19% alc. The rim had orange and did have age in smell and flavor. The only complaint is the oak extraction which there shouldn’t be if emulating the Portuguese wines. The oak is in the nose and flavor. The Woodbridge might be more to the liking for a traditional port drinker even for $2 more.”  The wine does have that woody component, nicely integrated IMO, but I admit I don’t know much about Port, so take my opinion as you see fit.

Woodbridge 2001 Portacinco

Lodi, CA; 19% ABV
62% Touriga Nacional, 13% Bastardo (also known as Trousseau), 12% Alvaralhao, 10% Souzao, and 3% Tinta Cao (not sure if this is really right, but it does use traditional Portuguese varietals)
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store on 4 Nov

Woodbridge_2001_PortacincoI don’t think I’ve ever tried one of the Woodbridge Portacincos that regularly show up, and thought I’d take advantage of the sale to do so.  I’m not totally sure what to make of this, but it seems a reasonable port-style wine for the price.  Also you should keep in mind that I’m not very familiar with Port wines.

On the first couple days I had this open, I thought the fruit was pretty nice — dark red cherry and rich, red plum — with some nice wood and spice.  But I thought the fruit was somewhat overwhelmed by the brandy added for fortification.  However, after it had been open a few days, these two components integrated better to meld the dark purple to medium red fruit with the more sherry-like / citrus-y elements of the fortifying spirits.  So, while I didn’t find it as satisfying as other Port-style wines I’ve had, I have to admit it’s pretty tasty for the price point, especially at the sale price.

Lim13 reviewed the 1997 vintage of this wine here, and his review contains a link to a reader review of the 1999 vintage.

Belle Vallee Cellars 2005 Pinot Noir Port $4.99

Produced/Bottled by: Belle Vallee Cellars, Corvallis, OR
Purchased on: 6-10-2015 Lebanon OR G.O.
ABV: 18% SRV $38
Handcrafted. Only 6 barrels were produced.

{note: I am not a person who prefers sweet wine, I picked this up because of its unique varietal and will do my best to describe it accurately. A Port connoisseur may have an entirely different opinion altogether; I hope someone who knows/loves Port will find this, taste it and report back.}

 Because of my lack of familiarity with Port, I needed to educate myself. Here is a quick rundown:
Normally only wine originating from Portugal, more specifically, the Douro Valley (according to the European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines) is designated as Port. All other wines from various countries or producers are listed as fortified wine, except for the U.S., who allows wine from anywhere in the world to be labeled “Port”.

Typical Port grapes: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão

So the particular reason this Belle Vallee Cellars Port caused me to step outside my comfort zone…the wine is made from Pinot Noir; one of the most fragile and temperamental members of the wine grape family. I couldn’t imagine a hearty Port-like wine evolving from Pinot Noir and tasting good. I was wrong.

The only reference I could find online was regarding their 2003 vintage: “The Pinot Noir is picked very ripe and fortified with Willamette Valley Pinot Noir brandy that has been barrel-aged for three years. A labor-intensive wine requiring a lot of skill. Pinot Noir shows well in this style of spirit with its fruity character complementing the brandy.” 

The top of the bottle is capped with a heavy wax. Very well sealed.
The cork was red/black at the bottom. No evident seepage.

Color: Dark ruby-red. I took it outside in the evening sun, to check for debris or cloudiness. Saw neither.
Fragrance: Rich. Heady. Cocoa, blackberries, raspberries, spices.
Taste: Dark chocolate, caramel, cinnamon & nutmeg, figs or raisin type fruit…and dark chocolate covered cherries.

There is serious alcohol heat on this one (no surprise there) but it balances the sweetness of the wine. My perception when I tasted it was a non-cloying spicy sweet, somewhere between a Red Port and a Tawny Port. It opened up over the evening (I poured myself 2 oz and it took a few hours to finish it) and was a little more lush. The flavors remained constant.  I think it’s excellent. This is the highest praise I could give a wine in general, and this is not at all my standard preference for a wine. I called the Lebanon store and asked them to hold a case (6) for me…first time I’ve ever done that with a sweet wine.

It was worth stepping outside the box.

The website for Belle Vallee Cellars has expired. Their Facebook page has closed. Their phone numbers are disconnected. I am drawing the conclusion that they are no longer in business and that G.O. received these as a closeout buy. If anyone has any information regarding this, please do post.

Based on this wine and JWC’s review of the Belle Vallee Merlot (which I have not yet tried), I would say, if you see a wine from Belle Vallee Cellars at G.O. buy it! If you don’t like it, take it back, but these wines appear to be extremely good wines at good prices…best we’ve seen in a while here in Oregon.

Gérard Bertrand 2008 Banyuls

Appellation Banyuls Protégée, (southern) France
Vin Doux Naturel, a type of fortified wine; 16% ABV
Made from Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris
$9 for 750ml at the Richmond, CA store on 3 Nov

Bertrand_2008_BanyulsI did not know what Banyuls was before finding this wine, so I am still learning about it.  Apparently, it must be made from at least half Grenache, and the fermentation is stopped early by adding grape spirits, increasing the alcohol and retaining the sugar from the grapes.  It struck me as sort of in between Port wine and a Cotes du Rhone.

The wine shows Grenache flavors of red / black cherries and black raspberries, red grape, maybe redder plum, lighter raisin, and wood.  While the fruit is sort of like a Cotes du Rhone, it’s obviously sweet and shows a slight oxidation.  On the other hand, it’s not as heavy and sweet as a young Port.  It went well with dark chocolate, but not so well with dates, which seemed a little too sweet.  I expect roasted nuts would be a good complement, maybe a creamy blue cheese.  The Bertrand web site says, “To be enjoyed at 16°C (61°F), with fruit desserts or Catalan pastries but also as an aperitif.”  Overall, it’s quite pleasant and an interesting experience, but I won’t be getting more.  Part of that is that I’m not that into dessert wine, and part of that is that it’s not especially complex, although it is better than Donna’s Dessert wine ($6).  I’m curious about what others here think of it.


Indian Peak Vineyards “Donna’s Dessert Wine”

California; 19.75% ABV (so says the label)
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 12 Sept

IndianPeak_DonnasDessertWineI picked this up thinking, “Oh, maybe this could be something interesting.”  Then I saw the alcohol percentage and the slightly risque back label and thought, “Okay, good or not, this is a true Gross Out find!”

When I looked at the Indian Peaks web site, the winery struck me as a pretty serious and credible effort.  And I think this wine is pretty good!

Although it’s apparently made from Syrah, there’s not all that much in the flavors that would tip me that it’s not, for example, Cabernet instead.  Nonetheless, the sugar and flavors of medium red cherry, raspberry, and earth / aged complexity are evenly balanced with raspberry / cranberry acid.  I’m not familiar with ruby port, but from the name, I could easily imagine its being something like this.  For this price, if you like fortified dessert wine (it doesn’t say so, but I can’t imagine this alcohol level was reached otherwise), I think this is a pretty tasty deal.

Darrell also liked this wine.

Triozzi Dry Marsala, Italy $6.99

Portland/Hollywood    17% alc.    ( Purchased on 2/24/12)

IMG_4236That’s right…I bought this wine almost two years ago, while visiting with my brother in Portland.  So go ahead and “beat me up” for posting well after the fact.  I supposed there’s a darn good chance you won’t find this Marsala, should you want to try it.  So why bother with a review?  Because it’s good stuff.  Marsala’s not exactly a big seller,  but I love to cook with it.  It’s probably my favorite wine to cook with…for soups, stews, sauces and just about any meat…chicken, pork, veal (though I don’t eat veal).  Just so happens that I already had a couple of bottles of Marsala when I bought this one, so it sat quietly in my cellar until now.  And you never know if a fortified wine like this might still be lingering, covered in dust on a GO shelf somewhere.  Or who knows?  It might even reappear.  So I thought it was still worthy of a review.

Mostly clear very dark brown color.  Much darker than most Marsala I’ve had over the years.  Very roasted, toasted nutty, sherryish nose that makes it’s way into the flavors.  There’s a faint sweetness at the front of the tongue and some bitter almond qualities on the palate.  The most full-bodied Marsala I’ve ever had.  Worked very well with my Chicken Marsala with Chanterelles.  Dee-licious!!    Buy one if you happen to see it.  I haven’t.  But if I do, I’ll buy a few!  And I’d recommend buying a bottle of any brand Marsala you might see at your local GO.  Being fortified, it’ll likely never spoil.

1997 Woodbridge Lodi Portacinco, CA $5.99

Silverdale, WA    20% alc.    (Purchased on 10/2/13)

75% Touriga, 10% Trousseau (Bastardo), 10% Souzao, 4% Tinto Cao, 1% Alvarelhao

IMG_1195Real cork…not a hand-pull type.  Opaque deep purple with a brownish caste, showing it’s age of 16 years.  Nose is definitely typical sweet, fortified, high alcohol, raisiny Port.  Quite sweet and syrupy on the palate with tobacco, black plum, raisin and perhaps some cocoa.  It has held up extremely well and it’s really very tasty.  For me, it lacks the back-of-the-throat grip of true Port, but I’m always pleased to see American port style wines employing true Portuguese varieties in their production.  A fine fireside sipper as the autumn (and soon to be winter) nights turn much cooler here in the northwest.  A very inexpensive and tasty well-aged, fortified dessert wine for those willing to give it a try.  Nice effort.  I categorized this as “Kitchen Sink”, but Portuguese/American “Kitchen Sink”.

Worked great as a cooking component in one of our favorite entrees…filet mignon with port blue cheese reduction sauce (using smoked blue cheese crumbles this time).  Mmmmmmmmmmm!

And by the way, BargainWhine was kind enough to alert me to the fact that reader ffchick shared her review of the 1999 vintage of this wine nearly two years ago in November 2011.  She apparently paid $7.99 ($9.99 minus 20% during that year’s winter sale).  So comparing her review with mine and noting the current price…I’d say this is a real bargain!

Schloss Vollrausch 1986 Pilzsammlerwein

Karl-Marx-Stadt, GDR; 20% ABV
Free sample obtained 3/31/2013 in Las Vegas, NV

Vollrausch 1986 PilzsammlerweinBargainWhine and I are both enthusiastic mushroom hunters, so we couldn’t resist trying this mushroom-infused “mushroom-pickers’ wine” on a recent road trip that we’ll never forget and can barely remember. Did you ever see that movie The Hangover? What happens in Vegas, they say…

 While eating some schnitzel and drinking beer at the Hofbräuhaus, we told our buxom blond server that we really enjoyed the chanterelle gravy. She replied, “oh, you like mushrooms, eh? You know, my father keeps a little East German mushroom wine around for special occasions”, apparently a holiday tradition from the Siberian side of the family. A few minutes later, Klaus, the owner, pops over to our table with a brown stone bottle and pours us each a glass, which we politely tasted. I recall it was strong but went down pretty smooth, kind of like sake. Our notes describe the flavor as simply “mushroomy” – despite our wide experience of gourmet fungi, we hadn’t tasted this one before. Then we noticed that the label appeared to indicate it was made with Amanita muscaria, the famous Soma of the Old World. We expressed concern about its safety, but Klaus insisted there was nothing to worry about, he’d been drinking it for years, and he poured us all another glass.

 What happened next is still pretty fuzzy…we made it home alright – found the empty bottle under the car seat the next day. I suppose BargainWhine must have been OK to drive, but I remember riding home in Santa’s sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. We got the waitress on a bus back to Vegas before BW’s wife got home. Do be careful if you ever come across this wine in your travels.