Fit To Be Fortified

Martha Clara’s Clusters is a port-style wine made from a blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

Martha Clara Vineyards dessert wine.(Nov. 9, 2013) Photo by Randee Daddona

Farming proves the adage that necessity is the mother of invention—and Mother Nature is the mother of them all.

In 2007, Juan E. Micieli-Martinez, manager and winemaker at Martha Clara on Long Island, was faced with a happy dilemma: what to do with the surplus of super-ripe grapes provided by a hot, dry summer. The answer? Make fortified dessert wine, or as most Americans know it, Port.

(Like the wine producers of Champagne, the Portuguese protect their brand, and in the E.U., only their wines may be labeled “Port”. That doesn’t mean no one can make “port-style” wine; they just can’t call it “Port.” We’ll respect that here.)

The result at Martha Clara is Clusters, a port-style wine made from a blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Super-ripe grapes mean a high sugar content, which mimics the conditions that caused Port’s invention in the first place. It is hot in Portugal. The Portuguese add pure spirits, stopping the fermentation and raising the alcohol content. This keeps the wine sweet and prevents it from spoiling on cross-Atlantic trips .

But now Brooklynites have a locavore version.

“The wine is sweet,” says Micieli-Martinez. “But that is balanced by the warmth of the spirit.” Which was made, by the way, at Long Island Spirits, home of LiV vodka.

Many drinkers expect the syrupy consistency of a late-harvest dessert wine, but the body is surprisingly light, perfect after dinner with strong cheese. It will hold in the cellars for ages, but once you open a bottle, prepare for it to be gone by the end of the night.

Matt Spiegler

Matt Spiegler is an urban cheesemaker, crafting and aging his wheels in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and a cheese blogger at He completed the Cheesemaker Certification program at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese and worked at Woodcock Farm, a sheep dairy in Weston, VT. When not tending to his wheels or exploring the many facets of the cheese world he also writes code.

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