Fortified wine is also known as 'dessert wine' and has a higher alcohol by volume content than most other wines, with most reaching upwards of 20%. The reason why fortified wine has more alcohol than other wines is that during the winemaking process, spirits such as brandy are added in. What is the reason for this? Let’s find out!
How did fortified wine originate?
Hundreds of years ago before refrigeration and airplanes were invented, winemakers had to transport their wine by ship. Sailing barrels of wine from one land to another took weeks and sometimes even months. During these long voyages, air would seep into the wine casks and cause the wine to oxidize and turn acidic. If you’ve ever tasted a wine that’s been sitting in an opened wine bottle for too long, you can relate to this unpleasant taste. To fix this catastrophe, winemakers came up with a little trick. They would add spirits to the wine, which meant less spoilage and more happy customers. This was the beginning of fortified winemaking.
Is fortified wine sweet or dry?
Fortified wine can be very sweet or more on the dry side; it all depends on when the spirits were added to the wine.
In order to produce a more sweet wine, winemakers add the spirits before the wine has finished fermenting. For a more dry fortified wine, then the spirits are added in after the fermentation has stopped.
The reason for this is the fermentation process. Wine begins to ferment when the yeast starts to break down the sugar from the grapes in order to produce alcohol. The yeast dies off either after it has run out of sugar or when the alcohol content becomes too high. When the winemakers allow the fermentation process to finish before adding in spirits, this results in a more dry wine since the yeast has broken down all of the sugar. When winemakers add spirits into the wine before the yeast has finished breaking down the sugars, the spirits will kill off the yeast and leave behind whatever sugar is left in the wine, resulting in a sweeter flavor.
Winemakers can add additional sweetening agents if they desire a more sweet outcome.
What is the difference between port wine and fortified wine?
Port and fortified wines are both dessert wines. The only difference between port and fortified wines are where it comes from.
Just like how champagne must come from Champagne, France, port wine must come from Portugal. Port Wine is named after the region it comes from in Douro Valley, Portugal. This sweet wine is made from Portuguese grapes and has a very sweet flavor with flavors like dried fruit, cinnamon, and chocolate.
Port wine is most commonly enjoyed in a small port wine glass and is sipped slowly after dinner as a dessert wine.
What is considered a fortified wine?
Fortified wine is any wine that has been strengthened by potent alcohol. ‘Fortified’ literally means ‘strengthened’ which puts port wine and fortified wines at the top of the list of strong wines.
Fortified wines can be sweetened and flavored with different tastes like vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch.
What are the different types of fortified wines?
Although port is the most well-known fortified wine, there are many other varieties to choose from.
Port & Sherry
These are the two most well-known types of fortified wines. Like port wine, sherry is named after the location where it’s made.
Port wine comes from the Douro Valley, Portugal
Sherry wine comes from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
It should be noted that although these fortified wines have some similarities, there are some key differences, most noticeably in their flavors. Port wine is made by adding brandy mid-way through fermentation, resulting in a very sweet taste. Sherry is a dry fortified wine, made by adding brandy after the fermentation process was finished.
Madeira & Marsala
Marsala comes from Sicily and is made similar to sherry, by adding in brandy after the fermentation process is completed. Some winemakers may add a sweetening agent into the wine afterward to make it sweeter.
Madeira originated in the Madeira islands and is similar to sherry as well. Like Marsala, winemakers may also add a sweetening agent into Madeira.
The perfect dessert and fortified wine pairings
There really are no wrong combinations when it comes to pairing desserts and fortified wines. Chocolate cakes and fruit pies pair perfectly with sweet port wines for the ultimate after-dinner indulgence.
Port or sweet Madeira wines are the most popular choices when it comes to sipping something sweet after dinner, but you can also try a drier wine as well.
Eating cheese and berries for dessert is a great option for pairing with a dry wine since the flavors balance each other out nicely without either one being overpowering.
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