Fortified wine is a wine that’s been topped up with a distilled spirit, usually brandy. There are different types of fortified wine that’s been developed over the years, which include Port, Sherry, Marsala, and Vermouth.
They were originally created to make the wine stay fresh longer by adding ethanol which acted as a natural antiseptic. These days, although there are many different preservation methods, fortification is still very popular, mostly because the process adds a unique flavour to the final product.
Madeirais made in the Madeira Islands of Portugal, this fortified wine ranges from dry to sweet, with distinctive flavours. The wine is heated and oxidized in the maturation process, giving it an unusually long lifespan after the bottle is opened.
Marsalais a fortified wine from Sicily, Italy, that can be both fortified and unfortified. First created by John Woodhouse, an English merchant in 1772, it was meant to be a cheaper substitute for sherry and port.
Fortified with brandy, it can be turned into either Fine, a 17% ABV wine that’s been aged for no less than four months or Superiore, an 18% ABV wine that’s been aged for a minimum of two years. The unfortified Marsala is to be aged for at least five years in wooden casks.
Port is produced in the Douro Valley, Portugal, usually is served as a dessert wine. It is higher in alcohol, heavier, sweeter and richer than unfortified wines. The production method consists of adding distilled grape spirits to halt the fermentation prior to having all the sugar converted into alcohol.
Sherryis a fortified wine that’s made from white grapes from Jerez, Spain. In fact, the name “sherry” is just the anglicization of Jerez. The wine is protected under the European Union laws, so it has to be produced in the Sherry Triangle, the area in the province of Cadiz.
Produced in a variety of styles, Sherry can range anywhere from dry and light version (finos) to much richer, darker, and sweeter versions (olorosos).
Vermouthis an aromatised fortified wine that’s flavoured with herbs and spices using guarded recipes, also known as trade secrets. Some of the spices added include cinnamon, chamomile, cardamom, and marjoram. Depending on the brand and production methods, Vermouth can be anywhere from sweet to dry and bitter.
Antonio Carpano from Italy chose to name Vermouth as such because of a popular german wine flavoured with wormwood.
Fortified vs Dessert Wines
It’s a common misconception that fortified and dessert wines are pretty much the same thing. It’s very easy to get confused, especially when some fortified wines are sweet and go incredibly well with desserts. However, they are, in fact, two different varieties of wine, each involving quite distinctive winemaking techniques.
Fortified wine, unlike dessert wine, is made with the addition of a neutral spirit - usually brandy. That’s where the name “fortified” comes from. On top of that, this wine variety is also high in alcohol, anywhere from 17 to 22 ABV, unlike low alcohol dessert wine.
Dessert wine is always sweet and has no alcohol added to it. The winemaking process is also different. One type of dessert wines is simply late harvest wines that are full of natural sugar because the grapes have been left on the vine for so long. Another way is making it from frozen grapes, which are later pressed to concentrate the sugar content into ice wines.
Fortified wines aren’t the unwanted children of the wine industry that are meant to be shoved onto to bottom shelf of the last aisle at the liquor store. Instead, they are glorious and beautiful cousins that deserve much more attention and love on a global scale.
If you’d like to try a bottle, buy fortified wine at the ZYN liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or shop online at ZYN.ca!