What is fortified wine, and should you try it?

If you’re a wine lover, you may stick to tried and tested favourites, or you might be willing to try pretty much anything. But have you tried fortified wine? And what exactly is it?

Fortified wine is differentiated from regular wine as it contains a distilled spirit. This can be brandy, whisky or others, and gives the wine a unique flavour. It’s also higher in alcohol and has more sugar than normal wine.

Why was fortified wine first made?

The idea behind fortified wine was originally to prevent it spoiling by upping its alcohol. Before modern refrigeration it was much more difficult to stop all kinds of produce from getting spoiled, including wine. It is fermented, which is a process that converts the grapes’ sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

During this process, the distilled spirit is added at different times. This boosts the amount of alcohol in the wine and alters the flavour. If the spirit is added to the wine before fermentation is complete, the end result is much sweeter. If the spirit is added after the process is finished, it will be a drier end product.

Both dry and sweet fortified wines are traditionally served before or after meals as aperitifs or digestifs. They’re thought to stimulate the appetite and help digestion, which is why they assumed these roles over the years. Other types are commonly used in cooking to add extra flavour to dishes.

Types of fortified wine

The most common types of fortified wine include Port, Sherry, Vermouth, Marsala and Madeira. You’ve probably heard of all of these, but do you know the difference between them?

  • Port wine originally came from Portugal, although it’s now made everywhere. Before the wine finishes the fermentation process, brandy is added, which gives a rich, sweet flavour.
  • Sherry comes in lots of different kinds, depending on the grapes used. Traditionally dry, it can also be sweetened and serves as a dessert wine.
  • Madeira originally hailed from the Madeira Islands in Portugal. It is oxidised and heated, with brandy added at different times during the fermentation process.
  • Marsala is fortified with spirits after fermentation, leading to its unique, dry flavour.
  • Vermouth is available in both sweet and dry versions and is a fortified white, flavoured with different herbs and spices. These include cinnamon and cloves but differ according to the brand. It’s the main ingredients of famous cocktails, including Martinis and Manhattans.
Fortified wine is higher in sugar and alcohol

Fortified wine has high levels of antioxidants, which are thought to protect against cell damage, and help fight some diseases. It is, however, higher in calories than normal wine. For example, Sherry contains almost twice as many calories as red wine, but as it’s served in smaller quantities than wine, this doesn’t necessarily cause a problem.

It also has higher levels of alcohol than normal wine, due to the addition of the distilled spirits. Fortified wines generally contain around 20% alcohol, while regular wine hovers between 10% and 15%.

The Perfect Wines for This Winter Season

As the nights get colder and darker, and with more time spent inside and socializing with friends and family, it’s time to reach for a more comforting choice of wine. We tend to shift away from the rosé and stainless-fermented wines, leaning towards heavier, oak-aged varieties. The plummeting temperatures are a natural accompaniment to fuller-bodied reds and fortified wines, perfect for fireside nights and comforting, slow-cooked meals. From generous reds, for pies and stews, to warming fortified wines, Ideal Wine Company have a few tips on what to drink this winter.

Ideal Wine Company winter wine
The perfect wines to try this winter season.

Rich red wines

Unquestionably, red wines are an instinctive choice for this time of year. Big, rich red wines, usually with a higher alcohol content, are the most popular option. The major elements you’ll find in these wines are fruit, tannins and alcohol, with this interplay being key to the success of the wine. Not all big reds are the same, differing on their reliance on subtler fruit, warming spice or even strength. From this, we’ve created a list of popular wines to try:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: with this classic choice, you’ll -get classic flavours of dark berry. These blackberry and blackcurrant notes will be complimented by chocolate and toffee. This luxuriousness is balanced out by medium tannins and a hint of spice, which make it a delicious heartening option.
  • Malbec: unsurprisingly, Malbec makes most lists of big red wines. With a smoky and rich taste, complimented by dark blackberry and blackcurrant, this dark red gives earthy and plush aromas. The structured tannins and warm oak lend itself to a bloom of spice on the finish, making it no surprise this wine is a firm favourite for winter months.
  • Rioja: another structured and fruity wine, Rioja provide a lot of character. The ripe plum and berry taste is balanced by its moderate tannins, spice and cocoa. A perfect wintery choice.

Balancing fortified wines

Making the perfect addition to winter food, fortified wines get their extra alcoholic kick through the addition of another spirit. They are great choices for balancing out the season’s sweet food, with rich flavours such as toffee, coffee, nuts and spices. Our recommendations include:

  • Amontillado Sherry: part of the anti-sweet wave, this sherry promises a subtle, bitter finish that will cleanse your palate of any overly sweet festive food. With tastes of toasted walnut, burnt sugar and bitter orange peel, this sherry is perfect as an ending to a meal or to accompany a sweet treat.
  • Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel: this sweet red wine is made of 90% Grenache and is the perfect pairing for chocolate. Through its notes of sweet raspberry, exotic spices, cocoa powder and Darjeeling tea, this perfectly matches so many winter comfort foods. From chocolate treats, such as truffles and yule logs, to blue cheese, this warming choice is always sure to be a hit.

Everything You Need to Know About Fortified Wine

If you’re thinking of buying the Fonseca Vintage Port from the Ideal Wine Company, you may be interested to learn that it’s a fortified wine. If you don’t know what this means, keep reading as we’ve decided to devote a whole blog post to explaining what fortified wine is, how it’s made  and why it makes a fantastic after dinner tipple.

What is fortified wine?

A fortified wine is a wine that has had a grape spirit such as brandy added to “fortify” the final product. This brings the alcohol content of the end product up to around 17% – 20%.  The most well-known types of fortified wine are Sherry, Madeira, Marsala and Port.

You may be interested to learn that producers first started to fortify wine because they believed that adding stronger alcohols such as brandy would preserve the final product. This is true if the bottle remains sealed, however fortified wine won’t last more than a month after it’s been opened.

How is fortified wine made?

Through trial and error wine makers discovered that timing is everything when it comes to making fortified wine. The grape alcohol needs to be added to the base wine during the fermentation process. This can be used to control the sugar content in the final product.

This is because once the grape spirit is added, it stops the yeast converting sugar into alcohol. Therefore when the producer wants a dry or a less alcoholic fortified wine, they let the fermentation process run its full course before adding the brandy. However, if they want a sweeter or more alcoholic product they’ll add it once the base wine has fermented for a day and a half. After fermentation, fortified wine is aged in oak wood casks.

Why should you drink fortified wine?

The truth is that there’s no one reason why fortified wine makes a fantastic after dinner treat. The tipple’s production process has a lot of variables and this means that there are a range of fortified wines on the market and they each have different characteristics and qualities.

Yet most fortified wines have one thing in common. Even when we’re talking about a “dry” variety, fortified wines are stronger and sweeter than other wines. This is why it has traditionally served as a desert wine and can be paired beautifully with after dinner staples such as chocolate desserts, fruit torts and cheese platters.