Fortify Yourself with VDN
by Sheila Swerling-Puritt
From time immemorial the world's winemakers have figured out many different ways to make sweet wines. One such method, made possible by the arrival of distillation in Europe about a thousand years ago, is fortification. Alcohol is added to fermenting grape must before all the sugar in it has been converted to alcohol by yeast. This "fortification" kills the yeasts, preserving the unfermented grape sugar, and boosts the overall alcohol content of the wine to the 15% to 20% range.
The best known sweet fortified wine is Port, made in oak-aged (e.g. tawny) and bottle-aged (e.g. vintage) styles. However, France has had an even longer history of producing this type of wine. In 1299, Catalan chemist Arnaud de Villeneuve of Montpellier University's school of medicine perfected the process and was granted a royal patent for its use in Roussillon.
In France, these wines bear the appellation "vin doux naturel" (VDN). They can be made for early drinking, fresh and tasting of the grapes from which they were made, or aged to impart buttery rancio and oxidative characters.
Muscat blanc à petit grain furnishes the best base material for white or amber (aged) VDN. The best known French V.D.N. regions are the southern Rhône's Muscat Beaumes-de Venise, St-Jean-de-Minervois, Lunel and Mireval from the Languedoc, and Rivesaltes, made in Roussillon.
The finest red (or "tuilé," tile coloured, if aged) VDNs are made with grenache nior. Rasteau in the southern Rhône Valley is home to some, but most are produced in sub-appellations of Roussillon: Banyuls, Maury, and Rivesaltes.
VDN can be sipped chilled on its own as an aperitif or dessert wine. VDNs partner well with dark chocolate, blue cheese and spicy exotic Asian cuisine. Whites work with all of these except for the dark chocolate. Both work with cheeses, desserts, foie gras and even poultry and roast meats.
That said, the delicious grape fruitiness of VDNs makes them wonderful for fruity spring and summer mixed drinks. SOPEXA recommends this long cocktail.
- 2 oz. Rivesaltes Ambré
- ½ oz. Grand Marnier Liqueur
- 2½ oz. ginger ale
- ¼ of an orange peeled
- zest of an orange
- mint leaf
- 1 cocktail cherry
- crushed ice
- Cut the orange into small pieces. Crush at the bottom of a highball.
- Add 1 Tbsp. of crushed ice.
- Pour the Grand Marnier and the Rivesaltes Ambré into the glass.
- Add ginger ale. Stir.
- Roll the zest around a toothpick , top with cherry, prick top of cherry and insert mint leaf.
- Place in cocktail.
- Sip with straw.
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