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Wine Reviews

What Somms are Telling Us on Fortified Wines: Surprising Results of the 2024 London Wine Competition

Exploring the Resurgence and Global Appeal of Fortified Wines through the Lens of the 2024 London Wine Competition

In looking at the results of the London Wine Competition, the place of fortified wines stands out. The all-star judging panel consisted of numerous Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, accomplished buyers, wine directors, and floor sommeliers. The prestigious competition thus provides a lens on current trends. Recently, keen wine industry observer Robert Joseph said that the sommelier's community knows “more about all the beverages the world is drinking today and will be drinking in the future than any wine critic.” So, the number of 2024 gold and silver medals in the fortified category is significant.  

Let’s take a look. 

Best Wine of the Year: A Fortified Wine

The overall champion, winning Best in Show and Best Wine of the Year, was a fortified wine: the Cat Among the Pigeons, “Fat Cat” Reserve Tawny. Based in Barossa, Australia, Cat Amongst is part of Pinnacle Drinks.  This bottle harks back to the longstanding Australian “port” winemaking tradition. It blends well-aged wines (up to eight years), fruit from selected parcels, and the use of seasoned oak barrels to express what Pinnacle calls “classic Barossa character.” 

The tawny won 98 points. What does it say that a fortified wine from Australia won the top category in the entire competition? For one thing, Fat Cat was not alone. Just behind, with 97 points was another fortified, this time from the United States: Mount Pleasant Winery’s Tawny Port Vol. XXIII. It won Best in Show and Best Wine of the Year. Where is Mount Pleasant? California? New York? Washington? No, Missouri. There’s another surprise. It’s described as offering “hazelnut, mushroom, and honey aromas on the nose” accompanied by “orange peel and hints of spice on the palate.” Full-bodied with a long finish. 

Fortified Wine Diversity Among the Top Scores

Does the list of surprising fortified wines winning big at the London Competition end there?  

With 95 points, the Colheita line from Quinta do Retiro Novo represents true Port. Its 2006 is part of the single year tawny Ports matured in wood for at least seven years. They are generally bottled just before they leave the cellars and gain the characteristic mahogany color, a fine and complex bouquet, a nutty character, and a silky texture. This coincides with what Wine and Spirits editor Joshua Greene recently noted about “Portugal’s momentum,” but a bigger story about a wine trend that should be heeded by sommeliers and buyers is here.  

For example, the next in line is the “61 Dorado” en Rama, which sounds like it should be Jerez Sherry. It’s not. This is from Cuatro Rayas, an innovative cooperative winery in Valladolid famous for its Verdejo wines. The facilities in La Seca produce around 15 million wine bottles per year distributed in more than 50 countries and have recently diversified, winning numerous awards for red, rosé, sparkling, vermouth, and, yes, fortified wines. The 61 Dorado, which means golden, is made from 50/50 Palomino Fino and Verdejo. Very interesting. It has 17% alcohol, and is non-vintage, being from a single “saca” from the coop’s barrels in June 2023.  And it’s DO Rueda. Even more interesting. 

So, there's a pattern here of experimentation, innovation, and unique expressions worldwide within the realm of fortified wines. Given the results from the London Competition, sommeliers and buyers are taking an interest. 

A Trend Requiring Action to Enhance Sales

Indeed, Joshua Greene wrote this past April that “several wine directors” had told him about “robust sales of fortified wines, particularly Madeira.” However, the trend goes well beyond Madeira. Randall Restiano at Gramercy Tavern in NYC told Green that “one of the first things he did was deepen the selection of Porto, Madeira, and Sherry.” The GM was amazed by the sales results. Restiano said: “This is having to reorder Madeira and Porto more than once in the last three months, which is shocking because in my whole career, you order it once for the year and that’s it.” The London Competition results reflect the same trend but with a twist. 

So far, we have port-style wines from Australia, Portugal, and Missouri, and a sherry-style wine from Rueda made with Palomino. The next high-scoring fortified wines from the London Competition are: 

- Another Missouri tawny from Mount Pleasant (92 points)

- A vintage 2009 fortified Vidal wine from Quebec, Canada: La Grande Cuvée St. Hilaire (91 points)

- A vintage 2019 “sherry” from Ukraine’s Shabo LLC (90 points)

- And a 2011 vintage port from Krohn (90 points)

The next highest winners included a private label Spanish fortified wine from Wine Cottage—the non-vintage Kam Zadeh Selection Rarity—and a fortified Portuguese muscatel from Adega de Pegōes, both with 89 points. 

Amazing Diversity, Experimentation, and Innovation

This is incredible diversity in the top-scoring fortified wine scene: Australia, Ukraine, the USA, Canada, and unusual Spanish regions alongside Portugal’s Douro Valley. Indeed, The Guardian noted fortified muscat wines making a comeback too: “Rutherglen, in Victoria’s north-east, is the undisputed home of muscat in Australia. Liquid gold, they call it; a lusciously rich, sweet fortified wine that is aged in the barrel for years, decades, and, in some cases, more than a century.” This trend in Australia correlates well with what is happening worldwide.

Source: Unsplash

One muscat winemaker, Rowly Milhinch of Scion Estate, expresses the new sentiment: “The idea of being able to experiment and explore, knowing there is an audience for it, has always been an attraction. It comes down, fundamentally, to the audience being so up for it.” Referring to fortified wines and younger consumers, he stated: “They’re ready for this now.” Wine directors and buyers must take note.  

In conclusion, the 2024 London Wine Competition has underscored a notable shift in the wine landscape. The success of fortified wines from diverse regions signals a broader acceptance and appreciation of these complex beverages. As sommeliers and buyers continue to champion these wines, the fortified category is poised for a dynamic and innovative future, capturing the palates and imaginations of wine enthusiasts worldwide.

Call for domestic and international submission is now open for London Wine Competition. Enter your wines before 31 August 2024 to get super early bird pricing. Register now and ship later to save.

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