Definition - What does Fortified Wine mean?
Fortified wines are wines that have additional alcohol added to them before or after the fermentation process by introducing a spirit and blending. The type of finished fortified wine is determined by when and how the additional alcohol is introduced to the must and how much. The region from which the grapes are grown and harvested distinguishes between the varying types of fortified wines as well.
The five most common types of fortified wines include Port, Sherry, Madiera, Moscatel and Marsala wines. Fortified wines can be made to be dry or sweet, with a medium-sweet or dry being the taste found in the majority of varietals.
Most fortified wines originated and are made in Portugal. Ports have also been made from grapes in Australia and South Africa. Some California and Spanish grapes have been used to make sherries. Fortified wines in the U.S. are wines that contain more than 14% alcohol and include both expensive dessert wines (ports and sherries) and less expensive mass produced brands. In Europe, the names port and sherry can only be used on the label if they are from the regions of original production.
WineFrog explains Fortified Wine
Most commonly, during the fermentation process, alcohol is added to wine (fortified) to stop fermentation and increase sugar content; this process produces a sweet wine. For dry types, full fermentation occurs after which additional alcohol is added. These wines reach a final alcohol content between 15-22%.
Port wines are made from red grapes grown in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Port wines come in different styles, which can serve as dessert or cooking wines, with the most common being the Ruby Port. Two other styles of port include the Tawny Port and Vintage/Late Ports. Vintage Ports, which are specifically made from grapes picked in the same year, are aged in barrels and then aged in the bottle 10-40 years. Vintage ports will need to be decanted before drinking to blend deposits and introduce oxygen.
Sherry Wines (Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado) are made from white (mostly Palomino) grapes grown in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Sherry wines are made using a maturation process called “solera” that uses several barrels to move/blend the wine over a period of many years.
Madiera wine originated from an island off the coast of Portugal. Alcohol is added to this wine after fermentation; a process called “estufagem” then begins when wine is stored in an inactive tank and heated to ~45C/95 degrees F for three months minimum. After the baking process, ageing occurs between 13 months to five years, with Vintage Madieras aged 20 years in barrel and two in bottle.
Moscatel is a Portuguese wine made from Muscat of Alexandria or Moscatel Roxo grapes. There is a short fermentation period of blended musts that concludes with the fortification of alcohol. Marsala wines are solely produced in the province of Trapani and made from locally grown white grapes. Fermentation is stopped with the addition of grape brandy.