Last weekend I had the pleasure of performing three rites in a row with two Brothers from abroad. For such a rare occasions I like to select a bottle of special wine, for use in the rites and afterwards for some relaxation with my visiting friends.
The choice I was faced with, made me wonder: what wine is suitable for what rite?
I ended up chosing a wine that has a special relationship with the sun: a Rivesaltes Tuilé from the south of France. This wine is 'born' as normal fortified wine: a wine to which alcohol was added during fermentation to halt the transformation of sugars into alcohol, so it stays sweet. But after this 'small transformation' has been halted, the true tranformation takes place. The product is put in small oak barrels or glass flasks of about 50 liters and put out in the sunlight for weeks and months. It soaks up the solar rays and the heat that work together to accellerate the aging process, but without the influence of oxygen, because the barrels or flasks are closed. The result is a wine that the French call 'rancio' or tawny in English. Is has a very distinct overly ripened flavour, but still very fruity because the primary fruity notes of the grapes are not oxidized. The colour is dark red and brown with a hint of ocre. It is sweet, intense and above all: really good!
There are basically three wines in the world that undergo this special process of 'soaking and roasting' in the sun: the Rivesaltes Tuilé I just discussed, but also Maury (France) and Madeira (Portugal).
Rivesaltes Tuilé may be a bit hard to come by; I always pick it up in a French supermarket. But Maury and Madeira are more common and usually available at your local wine shop.
TIP: there is Madeira and there is proper Madeira. The Madeira you buy in very small bottles in the supermarket is heavily condensated Madeira meant for use in dishes as a flavour enhancer, especially nice in Oxtails soup.
The proper Madeira wine is a delicate medium sweet wine, made of the grape varieties Boal, Sercial, Verdelho and Malvasia. Sometimes you can get Madeira wines of one grape variety, but mostly they are mixed and aged for about 5 years. The better ones are 10 to 15 years old.
Only the more expensive Madeiras still undergo the maturation in the Sun in special 'Estufas'. The cheaper versions are heated in stainless steel vats :-(
So if you can, buy the real stuff. Ask your wine retailer about the production process and whether t