‘Tis the season for port, muscat, fortifieds, late harvest wines, and sherries! I’m curled up by the fire with a beautiful 20 year-old Liqueur Shiraz Tawny from family-owned Langmeil Winery in the Barossa Valley. The kitten is in my lap, dog on the floor at my feet; we’re a Norman Rockwell painting of wintery bliss. As to the wine, I’m loving the rich caramel, honey, and hazelnut flavors, measured with an undertone of oak and a distinctively silky, rolling texture. Truly if there’s one redeeming aspect to the damp wet chill of winter in Adelaide, South Australia, it’s the plethora of great local fortified wines that perfectly suit this weather. We can credit and thank the Barossa Valley’s original German settlers for recognizing back in the 1800s the area’s potential for big bold wines and long-aged port styles. Toffee, molasses, mocha, and cocoa… it’s starting to taste like Christmas, and I think I should break out the mistletoe. The drizzling rain outside might as well be snow, and the crackling fire whispers like old conversations among family across the holiday dinner table.
But wait. It is July. How terribly discombobulating. Quick, someone put the Sauvignon Blanc on ice and start the grill… I want a hamburger before I go to the beach. Did I sleep through the Fourth of July fireworks and the summer barbeque? Why am I rugged up with blankets and a sweatshirt, drinking a New World “port” in the middle of summer? Oh right… I’m in in the Southern Hemisphere. The toilets flush differently, and everything is upside down. Summer is elsewhere.
I am starting to realize that I’ve been Down Under too long to ignore the onset of ex-pat myopia. The condition has me fully mixed up about what’s happening and where. Of course I am perfectly aware it is wintertime—reference my icy cold toes—but I am also fully apprised that the month is July. And the insurmountable truth of experience tells me July is summer. Summer comes before autumn. But we just picked the grapes at vintage. The vines are barren now, and the vineyards lain with fog. I am bundled up, smelling all the scents of the holiday season, but this year Christmas dinner was a garden party where the heaviest wine we drank was Chardonnay. I can swirl pretty quickly into a confused nostalgic homesickness, particularly when I call home to America-based family and friends, but then I remember that the smells of green mistletoe in the hall and crackling pinewood in the fire are unique to my experience. I am not missing another holiday season with family. Back home, the news is about afternoon thunderstorms relieving the heat of muggy mornings. It’s hard to overcome the disconnect, so instead my brain skips a beat and just accepts a conundrum every time I look at my calendar.
How does this have anything to do with wine? When I sat down to write this evening, it made complete sense to wax on about the joys of fortified wine on a winter night. I’d created a nifty list of recently-enjoyed ports and sticky wines, and intended a bit of reflection about the beauty of seasons ebbing and flowing. But if you, dear reader, are in the Northern Hemisphere or tropics (lucky you!), you’d probably prefer a nice bubbly or Moscato wine, chilled on ice to accompany something fresh and light. You are basking in the simple joy of sunlight, and cannot remember what bone-chill felt like. I am extolling the virtues of a beverage that is only delightful in its proper time.
By all means, I’d recommend you stay away from the thought-provoking effects of fortified wine altogether until the leaves have turned burnt orange in your favorite local tree. Unless it is a chilled, light fortified Merlot or something, the heavy viscous texture of a winter wine in summer might turn you off the genre completely. I’m happily on a campaign to promote winter wines, and I don’t want you ruining them for yourself by pairing them with summer heat. Go Prosecco, or a crisp unoaked Chardonnay as the evening shadows grow long on the green grass. Have a nice green papaya salad paired with a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. The extra palate weight of the Semillon grape will sit nicely with the tropical fruit flavors, rounding out a well-balanced meal. Finish up with some chilled late harvest Riesling or off-dry Gewurzstraminer. I envy you.
That said, I am pretty happy by the fire with my Tawny. So no, I’m not so sure the feeling is jealousy. It is motivation. On the other side of the winter is spring and a brand new chance to drink fresh light wines. Bathing suit season will come again, so I should go easy on the truffled parmesan cheese and gnocchi. Everything in its time, so we must remember to savor what we have while it’s at its best. Whatever you’ve got in your glass tonight, and however blustery or balmy the weather… Cheers!