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Warmin' wonders

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Jim Hislop gets fortified for winter with the warming properties of port, sherry, brandy and whisky, with some fun facts to boot.

The chill of winter is in the air and it’s time for some fortifying liquid to lift your spirits and warm the heart. Though not everybody is bowled over by fortified or dessert wines, perhaps thinking they’re too strong or too sweet, each variety has wonderful flavours and aromas to enjoy. And you can always use up those brandy dregs or sherry leftovers in a stew or add a splash to pork chops when cooking...

Brandy and Cognac

I can’t think of a better winter comforter than brandy. It can be deliciously soothing, and it’s no coincidence that brandy used to be a standard medicine and anaesthetic in ship surgeon’s bags in the old days.

How’s it made? Brandy is made by distilling wine, which is aged in wooden casks. Cognac is a brandy variety made only in Cognac, France, usually aged longer than regular brandies.

What you didn’t know about brandy: Metaxa, a Greek distilled spirit (a blend of brandy and wine), was reputedly the first alcoholic drink to be consumed in space.

Port

The best quality port-style wines – only those made in the Douro Valley in Portugal can be called ‘real’ port – are mainly made with tinta roriz, tinta barroca or touriga naçional grapes.

How’s it made? The grapes are crushed and fermented (leaving the skins on). Once fermented (with some natural sugar left), the base wine is placed in containers half-filled with neutral grape alcohol. This wine is blended and aged in barrels, or bottled for sale.

Sherry

Sherry is a dessert (or fortified) wine made from pedro ximenez, muscat or palomino grapes. It adds extra flavour to stews, puddings and soups.

How’s it made? After being destalked and crushed, the grapes are fermented and the juice is fortified with brandy. Yeast is then sometimes added. There are many varieties of sherry, from dark-coloured and flavourful oloroso and the lighter amontillado to dry fino, which is very light in colour and character.

What you didn’t know about sherry: Sunday 26 May is World Sherry Day; cheers!

Whisky

Made by everyone from the Scottish to the Japanese, whisky (or whiskey, if Irish or American) can be used to marinate pork roasts or added to choc mousse.

How’s it made? Grain mash (such as barley, rye, wheat or corn, depending on the desired variety) is fermented and distilled. It’s then usually aged in oak casks. What you didn’t know about whisky: The most money ever paid for a whisky was for a bottle of Macallan 64-year-old, which fetched a whopping $460,000 (over R4,2-million) at a Southeby’s auction in 2010.

Check out the selection of brandies, congacs, ports, sherries and whiskys at you local Pick n Pay Liquor store.

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