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Feel-good fortifieds: top of the winter drops

It's the dead of winter and that usually conjures up dreams of a luscious, lip-smacking tipple beside an open fire – right? And a warming glass of fortified wine is just what the doctor ordered to chase away those shivery chills.

So, what's a fortified wine? They're wines that have had some distilled grape spirit (like brandy) added to them, increasing the alcohol content and warm, mouth-filling flavour. That's why winter is the perfect time to curl up with a Port or Muscat.

Port originated in Portugal and is available in two styles: vintage Port and tawny Port. The first is bottled young and needs time to develop, while the latter is usually a blend of wines and vintages aged in oak casks giving it is 'tawny' shade.

Australian Port-style wines can't use the name Port so look for wines with 'fortified' or 'tawny' on the label. Some top local drops include Drayton's 1978 Heritage Vines Tawny ($150) an award-winner that's in very limited supply, Little Wine Co's NV Tawny ($42), a 10-year-old Shiraz blend with a nutty, caramel complexity, Tintilla's Shortland Fortified Shiraz ($26) a dry style with raspberry liquorice flavours and Mount View Estate's Flagship Liqueur Shiraz ($55) oozing with fruitcake and spice aromas.

If you prefer a sweeter style, try a Muscat. The folks at Ivanhoe Wines say their Grand Liqueur Muscat ($45) is like eating a Caramello Bear – and who doesn't love those! It's a smooth mix of rich caramel and chocolate flavours – the perfect accompaniment to apple pie and ice-cream. And the peeps at Ernest Hill declare their NV 'Eleven O'clocker' Muscat ($30) is like fruit cake in a bottle with maple syrup and toffee tones.

The Portuguese island of Madeira is famous for its fortified wines made from Verdelho and if you're looking for a lush example of the style with a whiskey twist try Usher Tinkler Mr T's Rare Batch Fortified Verdelho ($55). It's barrel aged for 15 years with sweet caramel, old whiskey, toast and spice flavours. Peter Drayton Wines also makes a Liqueur Verdelho ($30) that gets the tastebuds singing with its sweet flavours of honey, candied fruit and lifted spice.

If you want to learn a bit more about fortifieds you're in luck as two wineries are holding special fortifieds tastings this month.

Over at Gartelmann in Lovedale, they're hosting Fortifieds By the Fireside every Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 2.30pm. It's all about showcasing fortifieds from different regions so take a seat by the combustion fire and learn about the different types of wine, the way they are made and try Gartelmann's Liqueur Muscat and vintage Port-style fortified, as well as other Hunter fortifieds and some from Rutherglen too. Bookings essential.

Audrey Wilkinson's Fortifieds And Fromage experience takes place at 11am and 2.30pm daily in the heritage-listed museum space where you'll sample their premium wines and be given three generous tastings of their 2003 Madeira, 2007 Muscat and 2019 Vintage Liqueur Shiraz direct from the barrel where the fortifieds are maturing. The wines will be matched with cheese from renowned local producers. Bookings essential.

It's a decadent way to see this winter out that's for sure.

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