Hello Prince Albert! Most wine drinkers are familiar with the usual fortified wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira but one specific style of fortified wine often flies under the radar and like Port, it is also made in Portugal. I’m talking about a wine from the Southern Peninsula of Portugal known as Moscatel de Setubal which is a legally defined and protected production zone. Is it worth the money and time to search out a bottle of this fortified wine? Let’s find out!
Moscatel de Setubal is made primarily from the Muscat de Alexandria grape varietal, but some additions of Moscatel Roxo are also used. As with all fortified wines, the fermentation of the wine is stopped early using a high-alcohol spirit (often grape or beet spirit) which leaves high levels of sugar in the wine. Of course, a wine full of sugar is not always a palatable thing so the balance is a necessity for the creation of an enjoyable product. In this case, balance comes from higher acidity levels which lend a crispness and mouthwatering effect to the wine, balancing out the heavy body and sugary flavors.
Moscatel is one of the many grape varietals related to Muscat and is known for flavors like apricot and honey when young but as it ages, oxidized flavors like raisins, caramel and nuts develop as well. Further complexity and body is added to the wine by aging it in oak barrels; this gives the wine flavors of baking spices and also darkens the color of the wine. In fact, most bottles of Moscatel de Setubal are a light to medium amber color and wines made with 100% Moscatel Roxo are much darker, leaning into the deep-brown spectrum of color.
The effect of oak-aging on white wines is very interesting as white wines gain color from the oxidation process turning from pale colors to gold and then to amber and eventually brown. To see the effect of oxidation on fruit, simply slice an apple or pear and watch the color of the white/yellow fruit quickly start to change. In contrast, red wines lose pigmentation with oxidation; a great example is Port which can start ruby-red or deep purple and as it ages, the color begins to fade at the edges, eventually moving its way into the core of the wine.
Many fortified wines have their fermentation arrested and then the juice is quickly separated from the skins in the tank. With Moscatel de Setubal, the juice is left to sit on the skins which greatly enhances the flavors of fruit like grapes, apricots and peaches. Once the wine has rested for several months (or sometimes years), the wine is bottled for further storage (if the quality is high enough) or sent out to stores for sale. It should be noted that wine continues to age in the bottle, so the combination of oak-barrel aging and bottle aging produces both the oxidized flavors and colors. When done properly, the consumer is left with a luxuriously thick liquid that is transformed from mere wine into a spiritous beverage of lasting quality.
The Moscatel de Setubal wine is a steal of a deal right now and is currently $10 off the regular price at one of the liquor stores I frequent. Even at the regular price, this is a wine worth sharing and will make the perfect aperitif (before a meal) or digestive (after a meal). The wine can be served cold (10 degrees C) or at room temperature (between 16 or 18 degrees C) depending on your preference. When chilled, the wine is crisp and refreshing and when it is served warmer, the wine seems thicker and rounder with the sugar standing out more.
You can also pair this type of wine with a plethora of cigars or foods, so if you’re looking for a wine to celebrate with, consider picking up a bottle. Here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!
Camolas Moscatel de Setubal Reserva 2018: (D.O. Moscatel de Setubal, Portugal). Very sweet white with a hazy, amber color. The bouquet is full of honeyed fruit, candied citrus peels, honey/lemon black tea and dried fruits (dates, raisins and apricots). The first sip reveals a full-bodied, luxuriously thick wine with a high sugar content balanced out beautifully by high acidity. The flavors tingle on the tastebuds including apricots, peaches, honey, citrus peels and sweet, brewed tea. The flavors are intensely concentrated, and each sip is rewarding. Medium tannins build on the palate and the long finish brings a touch of spice along with vanilla, sweet honey and lingering fruit flavors. This wine can be served cold or at room temperature with salty snacks like nuts, cheeses or fresh fruit. Try bacon or prosciutto-wrapped melon balls for a special pairing treat. Will also pair well with cigars like the famous Montecristo No. 2 (a Cuban classic) or the Rocky Patel Decade cigar in Robusto size. Very good! $21 (Regular $34), 17% ABV
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky: (Highland, Scotland). Slightly sweet Scotch whisky with a medium-gold color. The nose is light and delicate with butterscotch, candied fruit slices, honeycomb and digestive biscuit. The malty character carries over onto the palate with notes of toasted cereal and sweet malt followed by oaky bitterness and a touch of spicy bite. This Scotch has a medium-plus body which adds a satisfying texture to the spirit. After the brief bitterness, comes smooth flavors of vanilla, biscuit, golden honeycomb and a hint of roasted barley. A few sips will adjust your palate to the oak flavors which are more apparent on the 12-year whisky. Most bottles on the shelf are now NAS (Non-Age Statement) which often indicates less oak aging time. Whiskies that receive less oak aging may be slightly smoother, but they lose the silky texture that the 12-year whisky demonstrates. Very good! $100, 46% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!