Cold weather calls for fortification, of home and hearth, of self and soul. Or you could simply drink fortified wine. Some of the best known, and most seasonally-specific, fortified wines are the great Ports of Portugal. But there's a California equivalent: Quady Winery, which has been making sweet, fortified wines in Madera since 1975.
Quady's two Starboards* -- Batch 88, in the style of a ruby Port, and its Vintage 1996, made in the style of a traditional "vintage" Port -- both drink with the character of the Port styles they emulate. In fact, they're made from the same Portuguese grape varietals as the Portuguese wines.
Wine: Batch 88 Starboard
Notes: In the deep-red Batch 88, luscious notes of butterscotch and caramel dominate, with elements of red cherry, quince paste, and milk chocolate. Toward the finish, there's a touch of black pepper and a tiny pinch of nutmeg. It's solid, enjoyable, and perfect for sticky-toffee pudding.
Sells for: About $24.99 at BevMo (3455 Geary and 305 Van Ness) and Mollie Stones (635 Portola).
Wine: Starboard: Vintage '96
Notes: Our cork cracked in half and partially shattered when we opened the bottle, just like we'd expect from an old Port. Tints of brown appear in the coloring, as is also traditional. This wine smells like a older classic Port, and has a similar start in the mouth, but then gets more syrupy and pronounced, and shows more acidity, than one might find in the Portuguese version.
Sells for: $34.99 at D&M Wines and Liquors (2200 Fillmore) and direct from the producer
* Wine heritage note: Many wines that are historically tied to a specific region, like Champagne, Madeira, and Port, have received place-name protection. In Port's case, the name "Port" is protected internationally, but not, in the U.S. In other words, Quady could call its wines Ports, but chooses "Starboard" out of respect.
Tips for drinking fortified wines like Quady's: If you were to examine the two bottles we tried you'd notice the Batch 88 is sealed with a t-cap (a cork with a plastic top that allows reuse). The Vintage is sealed with a traditional, or "driven," wine cork. A t-cap denotes a Port that's ready to drink upon bottling, and can be kept and enjoyed for an extended period after opening -- though we're talking months, not years.
A driven cork is used when the wine is intended to age, and the wine should be consumed within a short period after opening. Generally, it needs decanting. "Short period" in this instance still means days, or even weeks, but the wine will lose its flavor and fullness over time.