In last week’s blog we discussed dessert wines and reviewed an article written by Tom Welsh on the topic. This week we are “Flashing Back” to my July 8, 2020, blog on fortified wines. These wines are heavy duty dessert wines with alcohol levels from 15 percent to 20 percent. Let’s review the blog:
What is a fortified wine? If you do not know the answer do not feel bad as a lot of wine drinkers do not know or they confuse them with wines that are not fortified. The simple answer is a fortified wine is a wine that has had a distilled spirit, such as brandy, added to it to increase the alcohol content and to enhance the wines flavors. Most fortified wines are often enjoyed as a drink before or after dinner. The most common types of fortified wines are Madeira, Marsala, Port (my favorite), Sherry and Vermouth.
These wines can be called dessert wines. It is easy to confuse fortified wines and dessert wines. Some dessert wines are not fortified yet others are fortified. For example, our 2008 Tiedemann Dessert Wine is a non-fortified wine, yet it has all the characteristics of a Port wine. It has a 19.2% alcohol content similar to a Port. The wine is a blend of 73% Tinta Cao, 17% Touriga and 10% Tempranillo. It was aged in oak barrels for over 10 years before bottling. It tastes very similar to a tawny port. Tawny port is rich with delicious flavors like caramel, apricot, peanut brittle, plum and walnut all knitted together. Top tawny ports are released in 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old versions. The age refers to the time spent in wooden barrels.
Another dessert wine which is also not fortified is Three Clicks 2008 Dessert wine. Also produced in Napa Valley, it is a blend of 72.6% Tinta Cao, 17.4% Touriga and 10% Tempranillo. This wine has an alcohol content of 19.5%.
These two dessert wines have all the same tastes as a fortified Port wine. They just do not have any spirits blended into them.
The Difference Between Sweet and Dry
Both sweet and dry fortified wines are made the same way with one exception. The wine is fermented, and then distilled spirts (such as brandy) are added to the wine.
Winemakers can control how sweet or dry their wine is by adding the spirits at different times. If the spirits are added before the wine has finished fermenting a sweet fortified wine is produced. If the spirits are added after fermentation is finished the fortified wine will be dryer and less sweet.
Types of Fortified Wines
Port and Sherry: The two most popular fortified wines are Port and Sherry. Both are fortified with brandy.
Sherry is a Spanish wine made from white grapes grown in the region around the town of Jerez de la Frontera in province of Cadiz in southwest Spain.
Sherry is a dry fortified wine with brandy after fermentation is completed which is the reason for the dryness.
Port wine, one of my favorites, is the worlds best known fortified wine. It is from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Most Port wines you drink will be red in color. Port is a sweet wine created by adding brandy mid-way through the fermentation process. When you fortify the wine in mid-fermentation the brandy stops the sugar in the wine from turning into alcohol thus the sweetness. The exact level of sweetness depends on the wineries style. You find port runs from semi-sweet to sweet.
Madeira and Marsala:
Madeira is a white fortified wine from a Portuguese island of the same name. this wine can vary in style based on the grape variety. About 85% of Madeira is made from the high-yielding red grape Tinta Negra. The best Madeira wines are generally made from Maderia Islands four white varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia.
The wine is produced in a number of different styles as I mentioned. They dry versions can be consumed on their own as an aperitif. While the sweeter wines are normally consumed with dessert.
Marsala wines are from Sicily and it is available in both fortified and unfortified versions. Marsala is among the world’s historic wines, first fortified in 1773. It is said that due to commercialization in the past years the quality has declined. Some producers in western Sicily have stepped up production back to high quality Marsala. It may be a good idea to the label to see where the wine you are considering is produced.
There are generally two fortified versions blended with brandy. The younger version is slightly weaker called Fine which has a lower alcohol content and is aged at least four months. The Superiore, which has a higher alcohol content of 18% or higher. The Superiore is aged at least two years. The unfortified Marsala wine is aged in wooden casks for five years or more and reaches an 18% ABV by evaporation.
Moscatel de Setúbal:
Moscatel de Setúbal fortified wine is a Portuguese wine produced around the city of Setúbal on the Peninsula de Setúbal along the country’s coast. The wine is made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape and fortified with aguardiente. The wine production is dominated by the producer Jose Maria da Fonseca. They are the founder of the oldest table wine company in Portugal dating back to 1834. The style is known for more floral aromas. The aromas come from the grape skins that are added after the distilled spirit is incorporated into the wine.
Commandaria is produced in Cyprus and is predominantly a sweet dessert wine. It is said to have a history dating back to nearly 3000 years. The maximum alcohol content is 20% ABV.
Vermouth is an aromatized wine generally split into dry and sweet categories. Vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with aromatic herbs and spices. Some Vermouth is sweetened however unsweetened or dry Vermouth tends to be bitter.
Vermouth has been around for a very long time. While Vermouth is enjoying its resurgence right now, it has always been a staple for civilizations across the globe.
There are many different types of fortified wines that are available. Each have their own distinct characteristics that makes it unique in its own way. The fortified wines are the most popular and generally form a basis for all fortified wines.
Whether you like dry or sweet wines there are a variety of different fortified wines to try. I prefer semi-sweet to dry fortified wines such as Port and Sherry to be served with dessert. There is no better way to end a great meal than by pairing it with a delicious dessert wine.
Dry fortified wines make delicious sipping wines prior to dinner or at cocktail parties. But remember, these wines have a higher alcohol level than other wines so one needs to watch the consumption of fortified wines. This is especially true if you are going to sit down to a 4 or 5 course meal with wine pairings.
What Was Missing: Other Thoughts on Fortified Wines
Port, like all wines, comes in a wide price range. Lower end ports range in price from $20 a bottle to $50 a bottle. And prices only go up from there. You can pay hundreds of dollars a bottle. Port wines should also be stored a cool (not cold), dark place. Like all our other wines, the bottles should be stored on the sides to keep the corks moist.
Most port wines are made unfiltered and in time will have sediment in them. It is good to stand the bottles up for a day or two to let the sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle. When you get ready to serve the wine, it should be decanted first.
As always, I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics, please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,
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