Fortified wine is ditching its fusty reputation to become the hottest new addition to cocktails and even popping up in RTDs overseas. Australia makes some of the best fortified wines in the world, will it embrace the trend?
According to data from Wine Australia, fortified wine sales grew by 14% in value and 7% in volume from the year 2020-2021.
The general manager of Stanton and Killeen, Natasha Killeen, told ABC News: “A few years ago people were saying that fortifieds were dead, but that’s certainly not what we are experiencing.”
Her mother Wendy added: “Years ago, people thought it was really old fashioned and it was a drink for old people. Now we are seeing people in their 20s and 30s who are interested in fortifieds because they are interested in different drinks, and especially handcrafted drinks.
“I think the hipster movement a few years ago also helped that resurgence because the trend was that everything old was new again.”
Pivoting port for mindful drinkers
As mindful drinking becomes an increasing trend around the world, fortified wine has been declining in sales and pricing globally.
However, it was once the world’s most popular wine style. As Wine Selectors notes: “Fortified wine is wine which has had a distilled spirit added to it – most often brandy, but any neutral spirit distilled from grains, grapes or sugar can be used – to enhance the alcohol content in the wine and make it stronger (hence, ‘fortified’).
“Historically, wine was fortified so that it would keep better on long, overseas voyages, particularly during the so-called ‘golden age’ of exploration over the centuries where France, Spain and England competed for global dominance. The addition of ethanol helped preserve the wine on such maritime expeditions, keeping it for far longer than would be the case otherwise.
“As a result, many nations have a signature Fortified wine that they’ve made their own, like Port, from the northern provinces of Portugal. Indeed, the story of Australian wine was built upon fortified styles, which was our biggest wine export up to the 1960s.”
Australia’s favourite fortified wine is tawny, with other Australian styles including muscat, topaque and apera.
Morris of Rutherglen was named Fortified Producer of the Year at the IWSC Awards Ceremony 2020. It also took out the overall Outstanding Wine Producer trophy. While its big award winning wines are definitely more for sipping than splashing into mixed drinks, there are plenty of mixer-friendly options out there.
According to Winemakers of Rutherglen, Australian muscat makes a sensational addition to cocktails such as spritzes, Espresso Martinis and sangria. Click here to view some recipe ideas.
Rutherglen winemaker All Saints has also created a product called Hip Sip, a muscat that targets younger consumers and is designed to be used in cocktails in addition to being savoured on its own.
The result? According to Spinach, the design firm behind the bold look, “remarkable sales growth indicates people are doing much more than just sipping it”.
CEO Eliza Brown told Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: “Hip Sip is made by our very own St Leonards Vineyard, because we wanted to give muscat a bit of an edge. We packaged it in a flat bottle so you can put it in your pocket of your jacket and used a tattoo artist to design the label. It’s super cool and delicious when you use it as a base for a cocktail.”
At All Saints’ wine bar, Thousand Pound, there’s a “Hip Sip” cocktail (above) on the menu, featuring Hip Sip with St Leonards Brut, elderflower and blueberry.
New innovations in fortifieds
Renowned port house Graham’s, founded in Porto in 1820 and now owned by the Symington family, has just launched a ruby Port called Blend Nº12 in Europe that has been created specifically for the bar scene and non-traditional Port drinker.
“We are excited to launch Blend Nº12 as we believe that ruby port is a very versatile category that has not yet been fully explored. Port has an original and interesting profile that lends itself to creativity and experimentation – both at home and in the bar scene,” said Vicky Symington. “At 19%, port is less alcoholic than many spirits and fits with the lower ABV trend, especially in long serves with tonic or other mixers,” she added.
Symington has also released an ‘experimental’ Port range under its Cockburn’s label, aimed at attracting a new generation of drinkers to fortified. Tails of the Unexpected is comprised of three contemporary Ports – Ruby Soho, Tawny Eyes and White Heights – with each of the new blends produced in exclusive small batches and featuring design-forward labels illustrated with elements such as Porto’s iconic trams. The bottles themselves are shaped like cocktail shakers.
George Sandeman, from Portugal’s famed House of Sandeman, told Forbes that Millennials, especially millennial women, are discovering Port, enjoying it on the rocks as an aperitif or in cocktails.
“It’s new (at least to them) and it’s different,” he said. “Every generation wants to drink something different than what their parents drank. Moreover, Port makes an excellent base for cocktails. It can add a range of fruit and nutty flavors and a hint of sweetness to a cocktail. Port marries very well with sparkling wines or with a very broad range of spirits. Mixologists are constantly searching for new ingredients around which to build new cocktails. Port is perfect for that.”
Even the RTD category is getting a taste of port
Taylor’s Port is expecting to sell around one million cans of its new Port and tonic RTDs in the first year. Available in pre-mixed 250ml cans, the drink has a 5.5% ABV.
“Taylor’s Chip Dry & Tonic is the culmination of two years of work alongside the Port Wine Institute, which undoubtedly will help to bring more consumers to appreciate port wine,” said Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of Taylor’s. He adds: “People frequently ask me what’s the perfect ratio of a perfect port and tonic. That’s what we’ve done and by making our own special dry tonic water, adding a touch of secret ingredients we made the perfect example of port and tonic.”
The RTD is already listed in the main supermarket chains in Portugal and Bridge said initial sales have been “extremely encouraging”, while international markets such as the UK and US are also showing strong interest.
Bridge told the Drinks Business he was “excited to take Port in a new convenience direction”, and said that he hoped the pre-mixed Port will bring in new consumers to the fortified wine category.
“It will work well as a tasting opportunity, and I hope it will encourage consumers to try a full bottle of Taylor’s Chip Dry,” he said.