A feast of Seppelt fortifieds at Sydney Regent’s Kables Restaurant

It’s time to break out the sherry, port, and muscat. Forget any notion about drinking them only as aperitifs, with soup or after-dinner. Fortified wines do have food matches. And, used sensitively during a meal, provide us with an interesting new spectrum of wine flavours.

Good fortifieds offer not just fruit, oak, and spirit flavours but maturity, ready to go. For, unlike table wines, released within a year or two of vintage and needing years of cellaring to be at their best, fortifieds are bottled at maturity. And, in the case of Australia’s better fortifieds, that means blends containing material dating back decades — and in some cases even a century.

Yet the declining market for fortified wines keeps prices comparatively low: top-shelf reds, perhaps three years old, now fetch $35 to $45 a bottle. Spend that much on a port or muscat, and you’ll get an incredibly complex, satisfying wine whose many components might have an average age of thirty years (ie: years spent in oak barrels prior to bottling). Even ten and twelve year old blends retail for under $20.

Perhaps it was frustration at knowing how good but little-known his wines are that prompted Seppeltsfield’s James Godfrey to team up with Serge Dansereau, Chef at Kable’s Restaurant in Sydney’s Regent Hotel this week.

At a dinner last Tuesday, one in the Regent’s series of wine and food matchings, Serge and James altered my perception of fortified wine forever. Even though the chef at Chateau Shanahan doesn’t contemplate offering four courses accompanied exclusively by fortified wine as they did, just two or even one course offers a stunning departure from the normal fare.

Dansereau’s entree of rockfish, scampi, yabbie tails, olives, basil and tomato-garlic dressing could easily have matched any number of dry whites. But Seppeltsfield Show Fino Sherry D.P.117, light and fresh as it is, delivered a unique, pleasantly tart bite and an underlying richness. It was an absolutely delightful combination that should work as well with any good, fresh Fino Sherry, Australian or Spanish.

(Ian McKenzie, well-known wine maker and Show Judge, told me at the dinner that recent changes to Federal regulations now allow lower strength fortified wines to be made. That’s great news for sherry lovers because it means, according to McKenzie, we will soon see on the market light, fresh Fino Sherries of around 15 per cent alcohol instead of 17.5 per cent. If the beautiful Spanish versions of that strength are anything to go by, then we can look forward to drinking an attractive new style of sherry that suits our climate so well.)

Amontillado Sherry and soup might be an old and proven combination. But Dansereau’s White Minestrone, based on a luscious veal-bone/ham-bone/bacon-bone stock worked better with Seppeltsfield Show Oloroso Sherry D.P. 38 than with the Show Amontillado D.P.116. Normally an Australian Oloroso is just too sweet for soup, but this combination proved mouthwatering and deceptively simple.

For a comparison of old and new, the main course, veal shank with kipfler potatoes, sauteed zucchini and shallot jus, was served with a big, traditional shiraz-based vintage port (Seppeltsfield Vintage Port GR 123 1984) and a lighter one made from the Portuguese variety touriga (Seppeltsfield Vintage Port GR 124 1987).

Meat as rich, soft and sweet as shank demands an assertive wine flavour — normally I’d settle for a full-bodied red of great age — perhaps a Hunter Shiraz or real Burgundy.

In this instance, the shiraz port weighed a little too heavily on the food, while the lighter, more fragrant touriga matched well. And if you believe the old saying that the glass tells the story, then most people in the room thought the same.

Seppelts won’t be releasing the touriga port for several years, but a similar veal shank (or lamb shank) match might be found in a Portuguese late bottled vintage port — the trick being to find something with age but that’s not too heavy.

Seppeltsfield Show Rutherglen Muscat DP 63 was a natural accompaniment to warm macerated date tart — no surprises there, but as yummy as it sounds. No surprises either in the superb Seppeltsfield Show Tawny Port DP 90 (some components dating back to last century) nor with Seppeltsfield Show Brandy VSOP (average age 28 years) — both are simply great and unique Australian products to be savoured to the last drop.

In fairness to other fortified producers, the wine/food matches here could be executed as well with wines from other makers — although the Seppelt Show series sit with just a few others at the top of the quality triangle. I guess the real point is that there is life beyond table wine and we should embrace it.