Fortified (Port Style) Wine of the Yakima Valley: Final Episode

When a wine is referred to as 'fortified,' it means it's been made stronger (or 'fortified') by adding a distilled beverage, traditionally brandy. The brandy is added before the fermentation process is complete, which kills the yeast, leaving behind more sugar, which results in a stronger, sweeter beverage. As I mentioned here, to properly be called Port, the wine must hail from the Duoro Valley in Portugal. Since the wines I received were grown and bottled in Washington, they are more properly 'port-style' or 'fortified wines.'

The first stop in our Yakima Valley fortified wines was Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Syrah. Today's post will look at two very different kinds of Yakima Valley fortified wine. The first fortified wine will look at is a blend of three traditional Port grapes. The varietals used include; Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional and Souzao. Thurston Wolfe sent two unique blends that contain some of the traditional Portuguese varietals, with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon playing major roles. Finally, we'll look at our one unique port from Lopez Island Vineyards, the only Sangiovese we received.

We received only one completely traditional style fortified blend of 56% Souzau, 25% Touriga, and 19% Tinta Cao. The 2004 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Fortified, a regal and austere looking wine. The 2004 is a single vineyard blend from the North Block of Hedges Family Estate. Hedges blend is of course a recognition of the deep tradition of the fortified wines of Portugal's Duoro Valley. The wine, from bottle to flavor profile, means serious business. It speaks of deep dark wood and mahogany, and has hints of tobacco, earth and dark chocolate and cherries. While much of the Yakima Valley uses grape spirits, Hedges goes traditional with Brandy which smooths out the pallet on the wine and reminds you of that old world fortified wine. This wine is a serious one, and while it would go well with any chocolate desert it would also stand on it's own on the yacht or after closing the deal in the boardroom.

Thurston Wolfe sent two variations on the traditional Port blend theme. The 2007 JTW Port is a unique blend of Touriga, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Souzao. The blending of the Cabernet brightens the fruit character and seems to mellow out the traditional Portuguese austerity. The JTW Port's final blend was created in 2008 and laid in barrel until bottling in the summer of 2009. The wine is a classic after dinner drink which tastes of chocolate and spices, Gwynne picked out notes of cloves. The JTW Reserve Port is a 2005 wine that has been selected for further barrel aging. The wine is a slightly different blend, with the Petite Sirah leading the way this time, followed by the Touriga, Cabernet and a tiny bit of Souzao. This wine is incredible, its smooth after two years in the barrel and two in the bottle. It's got dark fruit notes to spare. The extra time has made this a luxuriant example of Yakima Valley fortified wine.

The final fortified wine of our series comes from Lopez Island Vineyard, the 2007 Fireside Port is made of 100% Sangiovese. The wine is all Red Mountain fruit and the use of Sangiovese really makes it stand out from some of the other fortified wines we sampled. The fruit notes are more red than black and while it's very mellow, it's probably a bit more versatile with pairings. More strawberries and slight spice notes typical of Sangiovese. This wine is a sampling of Yakima Valley AVAs as the Sangiovese comes off Red Mountain but the grape spirits come from Wahluke Slope. Talking to Maggie, one of the owners, the attempt to make a fortified wine was more out of personal interest and curiousity but they're really happy with how it's turned out. So am I.

The wines we sampled over a three part series are just a small representation of what kinds of fortified wines are out there in the Northwest and for that matter just in Yakima Valley. I recommend you get out there and sample them before it gets too warm. Summer's coming and you'll have to wait until next winter or at least just until dessert.