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 which distilled spirits have been added to, usually in the form of a neutral grape spirit. Back in the day, it was discovered that adding spirits to wine was a way of enhancing its flavor and, perhaps more importantly at the time, preserving it during transportation which usually involved 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 in style from dry to sweet. Examples of fortified wines include Port (Portugal), Madeira (Portugal), Sherry (Spain), Marsala (Sicily) and 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, leaving any remaining unfermented sugar in the finished wine.
Quite understandably, these wines have a much higher alcohol content than their non-fortified counterparts (Port clocks in at 20% ABV) and will also last much longer in the fridge after they are opened, usually about a month or so. 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.