What is a fortified wine?

A fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled beverage (usually grape brandy) has been added.  Fortified wine is distinguished from spirits made from wine in that spirts are produced by distillation, while fortified wine is wine that has had a spirit added to it.  There are several styles of fortified wines that have been develpoed such as, port, sherry, maderia, marsala and vermouth.

Maderia Wine – a fortified wine made in the Maderia Islands.  Produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines that can be consumed on their own as an aperitif, to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert.

Marsala Wine – a strong wine named after the island’s port in Sicily, available both fortified and unforitified.  First produced in 1772 as an inexpensive substitute for sherry and port, by John Woodhouse, an English merchant.  The fortified version is blended with brandy to make two styles, a younger, slightly weaker Fine aged for at least four months, and the Superiore, aged for at least two years.  The unfortified wine is aged in wooden casks for five years or more.

Port – a fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal.  Fortified halfway through fermentation, which stops the process so not all the sugar is turned into alcohol.  Typically a port is a sweet red wine, but also comes dry, semi-dry and white.

Sherry – a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain.  Most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later due to the fortification taking place after fermentation.  Sherry is produced in a variety of styles from dry, light versions such as finos to much darker and sweeter versions known as olorosos.

Vermouth – a fortified wine flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices using closley guarded recipes.  Some vermouth is sweetened.  Unsweetened, or dry vermouth tends to be bitter.  The name vermouth comes from a concoction made by Antonio Bnedetto Carpano which was inspired by a German wine flavoured with wormwood, a herb most famously used in distilling absinthe.

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