Fortified Wines

Fortified wines are sometimes known as dessert wines—they are popular wines to drink, but also to cook with.  There are four main kinds of fortified wines: Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala.  When thinking about a fortified wine, the thing to keep in mind is that extra alcohol has been added either before or during the wine’s fermentation process.  The following article discusses the major fortified wines and how wine-lovers might best enjoy them.

Port wine comes from Portugal though it has enjoyed a rich history in England.  Known to improve quite well with age, port is the only red wine that is fortified.  Generally, port is sold as Vintage, Tawny and Ruby.  Vintage Port is the variety most popular with the British.  To make port, generally speaking, brandy is added midway through the fermentation process making for the typically sweet wine—half its sugar stays unfermented.  A Port wine can be declared vintage after two years in storage.  It is then bottled and aged for about ten years.

Tawny Port is poured into bottles much sooner than its vintage sister.  This type of Port is referred to as tawny because of its brownish color.  This port tends to be less sweet.  Buyers will often discover that their bottle is comprised of a blend of different tawneys for various years blended for their individual characteristics.  Ruby Port is also named for its color—a bright red.  Ruby Port is often used for cooking.

Sherry is also a fortified wine made popular by the British though it hails from Spain—specifically the city of “Jerez.”  The Palomino grape grown throughout southern Spain is added to dry white wine in order to produce this fortifying heavy hitter.  Sometimes Sherry is used to replace Cognac or a sweet liquor at dessert time.  Although Port seems to carry more distinction in the world of wines than Sherry, the latter is far more difficult to produce.

Sherry is blended by the solera process—barrels of Sherry are always blended from different years, both young and old together.  There are different types of Sherry as well: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado (made infamous by the Edgar Allan Poe story), Oloroso, Amoroso, and Cream (the sweetest of all).  The different types of Sherry refer to taste and also place.  For instance, since Manzanilla is stored near the sea, it tends to have a salty flavor.

Madeira and Marsala are used mainly in cooking unlike Port and Sherry; however, wine-lovers may certainly enjoy them as beverages.  Marsala is named for Marsala, Sicily where it is made from the Catarralto grape.  The grapes are first dried before fermentation giving the wine a higher sugar level.  Marsala comes in dry and sweet versions—both are mainly used for cooking, though.  Consider the popular Chicken Marsala.

Madeira is from the Atlantic Ocean island it is named for which lies off the coast of west Africa. It was once quite popular in colonial America.  Madeira is either sweet or dry and one of four types: Verdelho, Sercial, Bual and Malmsey.  In order to know you are getting a quality Madeira, you must see one of these labels.  During production, Madeira is heated which adds greatly to its taste.  Very good Madeira will have been aged for upwards of a decade.