With the chill of Winter finally settling in, there’s no time like the present to embrace our latest Wine Word of the Week: Fortified Wine. These delightful wines are generally hearty, rich in flavor and sure to warm you up from the inside out!
Introduced in the 17th century, fortified wines are wines to which distilled spirits have been added, usually a neutral grape spirit. Back in the day, it was discovered that adding spirits to wine was a way of enhancing its flavor and preserving it during transportation, usually long voyages across the Atlantic. The antiseptic properties of the ethanol in the spirit protected the wine from spoilage in the unfavorable conditions.
Hailing from many different countries, fortified wines have a wide variety of flavor profiles and range from dry to sweet. Examples include Port (Portugal), Madeira (Portugal), Sherry (Spain), Marsala (Sicily), Mistelle (France, US) among others. The level of sweetness desired in the finished wine will determine when the grape spirit is added. Since alcohol in the spirit is toxic to yeast, it will halt the fermentation process and leave any remaining sugar unfermented in the wine. Quite understandably, these wines have a higher alcohol content than non-fortified wines (Port clocks in at 20% ABV while Sauternes is closer to 13%) and will also last much longer in the fridge after they are opened, usually about a week or two. While winemakers no longer need to preserve wine for long ocean voyages, they thankfully continue making these truly enjoyable wines which are also so rich in tradition.