You may not know the term “fortified wine”, but you can probably name a few examples nonetheless: Port and Sherry are the two most popular types of wine that fall into this category. They are two crucial components, sure, but fortified wine is made elsewhere too. Here, we will discover some of the major styles of fortified wine throughout the world. First, let’s try to establish what a fortified wine actually is.
What is fortified wine?
“Fortified wine” is an umbrella term for wines that have had a distilled spirit added during the winemaking process. During the alcoholic fermentation, when the grape sugars are converted to alcohol, the winemaker can “fortify” the base wine by adding a neutral grape spirit. The process of fortifying the wine leads to a higher alcohol percentage than would have been achieved otherwise: It is rare for a non-fortified wine to exceed 14.5%-15% alcohol, whereas fortified wine will usually have between 17% and 20% alcohol.
Sherry wines come from the Jerez de la Frontera region in the Spanish province of Cadiz, and are perhaps the world’s favourite fortified wines. Key grapes grown here include Pedro Ximenez, Palomino and Moscatel. Sherry is produced in a number of distinct styles, with the primary distinction lying in whether the wine has been oxidatively aged or biologically aged. You will find Sherry that is bone dry all the way to deliciously sweet, and everything in between. There are big brands, such as Dry Sack Sherry, which offer relatively safe introductions to the category. At the higher end, there are some seriously high quality Sherries being made by top producers such as Emilio Hidalgo.
Port wine is made in the Duoro Valley in northern Portugal. It tends to be a sweet dessert wine, with fewer dry examples than with Sherry. The most important grapes in Port production include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Touriga Francesca and Tempranillo, known locally as Tinta Roriz. There are many styles of Port, with the most popular including Ruby Port, Tawny Port, Crusted Port, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port and Vintage Port. Vintage Port is not made every year, and the best examples are some of the finest wines in the world.
Madeira wine is also from Portugal, though exclusively from the Madeira Islands. The most important grape in Madeira is Negra Mole, which accounts for the vast majority of the production. Madeira wines are famous for their special ageing process, known as Estufagem, which is said to mimic the ageing effect of a long time spent at sea.
Produced in the Sicilian city of the same name, the fortified wines of Marsala are particularly popular in cooking. They are also delicious as an aperitif. There are varying classifications according to sweetness level, colour and duration of ageing. The most important grapes for producing Marsala include the Sicilian favourites Inzolia and Grillo.
While not particularly well known for it, the French produce some fortified wines too. Probably the most popular style is known as vins doux naturels, largely from the Muscat grape variety. Popular examples include Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and Muscat de Rivesaltes. These wines can also be produced from the Grenache grape. A regional speciality in the regions of Charente, Charente-Maritime and Dordogne (close to Bordeaux) is known as Pineau de Charentes.