A Complete Guide to Fortified Wine

There are a lot of wines in this category that get overlooked like Port, Sherry, Madeira, Banyuls, Marsala and more. Most widely known for coming in handy when you’re in the kitchen to add to a sauce or deglaze a pan, most regular wine drinking usually just leave these wines on the shelf and would most likely not pick a bottle like this to take home and drink with a meal or by itself. There is much more to this kind of fortified wine than meets the eye, below we’ll go over what get’s overlooked when it comes to these particular wines.


So all of these as you can probably tell are considered a dessert wine but what is is about these wines that set them apart from other really popular dessert wines, the answer is plain and simple and that is fortification. A fortified wine in basic terms is a wine in which a distilled spirit usually brandy has been added. The reason this whole fortification thing started was to prolong the storage time as ethanol or more likely known as alcohol is a natural preservative.

As well as giving the wine an extended shelf life adding brandy also gives an extra kick of flavour. Depending on where you live and what distillery you may be visiting there are certain laws and guidelines in place stating which brandy or neutral spirits are permitted to be used in the fortification process, this also includes what base grapes can be used in the wine. Fortification is an old process and you can find it being used in almost all parts of the world including Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and so on.

The standard process of fermentation which most wines go under is the standard sugar, with yeast which will equal alcohol except in this case manufacturers will add brandy to the base wine before fermentation is complete. The timing of this is crucial it must be added before all of the sugar in the grape has been converted by the yeast into alcohol. This addition of brandy or spirits kills any yeast that may be in the wine which stops the process midway through leaving more sugar which makes this fortified wine sweeter and it has a higher alcohol level because of the brandy. The golden rule to most desert wines is usually the earlier you add the brandy or spirit to the base wine the wine you’re left with will be sweeter because only a small amount of the sugar in the grape has had time to ferment in alcohol. If you, however, add the brandy in later on in the fermentation process the wine you will have left will be dry and less sweet than the other.


As far as pairing these wines it all comes down to how sweet they are some sweeter types of fortified wine will pair perfectly with rich chocolaty desserts or if you want savoury it will go well with a pungent or aged cheese platter. A dry fortified wine like this would pair better with anything like nuts, olives, cheese before dinner, or just at a get together. These kinds of wines are best served a cellar temperature or a little bit chilled. You can find plenty of dessert wines at your local wine store, or you can even jump online and shop different styles, dates, and tastes of wine and have them all delivered to your door.