What is so sweet, so rich, so powerful that it has a warning against depravity on the label? Wicked, our new dessert wine! Deep, dark, black cherry red in color with overtones of oak, rich fruit aromas and a long, sweet finish, Wicked is made in the style of a ruby port from Chambourcin grapes of the 2009 vintage.
While Wicked is made in the style of a ruby port, there are many, many kinds of port wine made from over a hundred varieties of grapes. Originating in the Douro valley of northeastern Portugal, port can be white, ruby (red) or tawny (light brown) and is what is known as a “fortified” wine, one that is made stronger during the winemaking process with the addition of a spirit.
After the grapes are harvested, they are crushed into a mixture of juice, pulp and skins called must. Some port makers still follow the tradition of foot crushing their grapes in large concrete vats called lagares in order to crush the juice and skins without crushing and releasing bitter elements in the seeds and stems of the fruit. Once the must reaches a certain temperature, yeasts are added and in time they begin to consume the sugars in the must and ferment them into alcohol. In order to create a wine that is rich and strong, full of natural sweetness, fermentation is stopped when about 13% residual sugar remains by adding a neutral grape spirit that kills the remaining yeast. This leaves an alcohol content of around 18%, compared to a range of 12-13.5% that is typical of the rest of the Sharrott portfolio. The sweetness level is also significantly higher. Compare the 13% residual sugar to four Sharrott wines that range from dry to sweet. The Merlot is at 0% residual sugar, the Dry Riesling is at 1.5%, the Vignoles at 4% and Crimson Sky at 6%.
The process was first documented in the late 1600s by the sons of an English wine merchant who sent them to Portugal to find new wines. They discovered a monastery in the mountains overlooking the Duero River where the abbot was making a strong, sweet wine by stopping the fermentation process with the addition of brandy. The process was popularized in the early 1700s when England and France were on opposite sides of the Spanish War of Succession. The British cut a deal with Portuguese allies that Portuguese wines could enter England at lower tax rates, making them cheap and plentiful to the Brits who no longer had access to French wine. The style was favored because the sweetness and strength of the wine meant that it could survive a longer sea journey. The wine—named “port” for the seaside village of Oporto where the ships loaded the wines bound for England, became popular enough for a bevy of British firms to establish in Portugal in order to control the blending and distribution processes. This explains the propensity of English-named port companies—Taylors, Sandemans, Cockburns and the like.
Arrested fermentation typically leaves a very strong and sweet wine with a lot of alcoholic heat that needs time to age and smooth out to a reasonable level of drinkability. Where this was once accomplished by a long sea voyage, to produce a more refined dessert wine, present day winemakers develop the wine with extended oak aging and a process of tasting over and over again until the flavors have integrated just the right way. This is further helped by bottle aging. One day in the tasting room, someone asked Larry III when next year’s Wicked will be ready and he honestly couldn’t say. You can’t put port on a timer. He told the gentleman, “The port tells me when it’s ready.”
Only 33 cases of Wicked were made and over half have been sold, with the majority going to Case Club members who swept them up during the pre-release. Even though we are limiting sales to two bottles per person, supplies are dwindling fast. As we will not be offering it to our retail partners, Wicked can only be purchased at the Sharrott Winery tasting room. Stop in for a wine tasting and see how beautifully it pairs with pretzels and shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate fondue. You don’t want to miss the experience of tasting the inaugural vintage of this amazing wine. Get yours before it’s gone!