What is Fortified Wine?
Fortified wine is developed by adding a distilled spirit. In most cases, it’s brandy. Why distilled spirits are added to the wine, what are its main features, what are the main types of fortified wines, are some of the most common questions about fortified wines. Here we will elaborate on all those answers and will try to reveal the true essence of the fortified wine.
The Origins of Fortified Wines
It all started back in the days when oversea wine transport was with ships, sea voyages were long, and wine casks weren’t as air-tight as the wine bottles. As a result, wine often oxidized and turned into vinegar.
To stop this, winemakers started adding spirit to the wine. That increased the alcohol content in the wines, less spoilage, and everyone was happier.
There were some folks, like Joseph James Baron Forrester that argued against fortified wines. But their campaigns didn’t come to fruition as the trend took off, and winemakers were pleased with the solution. There weren’t any major complaints from their buyers neither.
Recently, fortified wines have increased significantly in popularity in line with dessert wines (such as sweet wines like muscat wine) due to their popularity as a “post dinner” beverage.
The fact that even today people enjoy fortified wine, even though transport is not an issue, speaks volumes about the quality and the popularity of the wine.
Main Differences between Dry and Sweet Fortified Wine
Both dry and sweet fortified wines are made on the same principle; distilled spirits are added to the wine. However, winemakers have also learned that by adding the spirits at different times, they can control whether the wine is dry or sweet.
If the spirits are added after the fermentation, the wine will be dry. And if they add the spirits during the fermentation, the wine will be sweet.
Types of Fortified Wines
There are several types of fortified wines, and each has its distinctive features. Here are the most popular types of fortified wines in the world:
Sherry & Port
These are the two best-known varieties of fortified wines. Both got their names from their location of origin, and both are fortified with brandy. Sherry comes from the region of Jerez De La Frontera in Spain, while Port’s origins are from Douro Valley in Portugal.
However, they have more differences than similarities. Port is a sweet wine in which brandy is added during the fermentation process. On the other hand, Sherry is a dry wine in which the brandy is added after the fermentation is done.
Most fortified wines are red, and there are only some that are white and dry or slightly dry. Sherry is made in several styles that can range from dark to sweet and dry to light.
Marsala & Madeira
Marsala wine comes from Sicily in Italy and is fortified with brandy after the fermentation process is completed. Some winemakers that like sweeter Marsala add a sweetening agent instead of brandy.
Madeira shares many features with Sherry. But individual winemakers that are more into sweeter Madeira use a fortification process similar to the process used for making Port. The process was invented and perfected in the Madeira Islands in Portugal.
Vermouth is a fortified wine that is both sweet and dry. Typically it’s flavored with spices, cinnamon, and cloves. Furthermore, it’s commonly used for making cocktails such as Negronis, Manhattans, and Martinis.
This fortified wine comes from the AOC region, located north of Limassol in Cyprus. It’s made of high altitude wines such as Xynisteri and Mavro. Commandaria is aged in oak barrels and sun-dried.
Moscatel de Setubal
This fortified wine is produced in the Setubal province in Portugal. Primary comes from the Muscat of Alexandria variety and is fortified with aguardiente. According to several historical sources, Jose Maria da Fonseca, a legendary Portuguese winemaker, invented the wine.
Vins Doux Naturels
These are lightly fortified wines made in the south of France. In most cases, it is made from either Grenache or white Muscat. Regardless of the variety, the process of fermentation is stopped by adding grape spirit. Muscat wines are not exposed to oxidation so that they can retain their freshness, while Grenache wines can be oxidized or unoxidized.
Benefits & Health Effects
Same as all wine, fortified wine offers plenty of health benefits.
High in Antioxidants
Same as all other wines, fortified wine is also rich in antioxidants that offer protection from chronic disease, cell damage, and can neutralize free radicals. To be more precise, it contains antioxidants such as proanthocyanidins, epicatechin, and catechin.
Furthermore, red wine is high in an antioxidant named resveratrol. This antioxidant is especially helpful for health conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Beneficiary to heart health
Certain studies suggest that moderate consumption of fortified wine can bring many heart health benefits.
A four-week study that included 69 people revealed that drinking red wine can increase the good cholesterol for almost 16%. The improvement affected all participants.