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What is Fortified Wine?

Question from Michael: I think you made reference to “fortified wine” in a previous post. Can you explain what it is?

Reply: Thanks for asking, Michael, and shame on me for tossing wine jargon without explaining it! 

The phrase immediately brings to mind wonderful, often robust, wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira. A bump up in alcohol due to added grape spirits (the spirits are the “fortification”) provides much of the heft. And, my knee-jerk reaction is to also think of dessert wine.

Let me quickly make some exceptions. Fino Sherry isn’t so robust and it isn’t sweet. It’s bone dry and only fortified to 15% alcohol – no higher than a number of warm-climate red wines. It makes a very nice dry aperitif. In fact, Sherry wine, in general, is designed to be dry. When it’s sweet it’s because the winery added sweet wine to dry Sherry. And, Sercial Madeira is tangy and dry.

But those exceptions are still fortified wines because spirits are added at some point. If the wine is meant to be dry, it’s fortified after the fermentation is over. If the winemaker’s shooting for a sweet wine, the spirits are introduced during the fermentation, before the yeast has used up all the grape sugar.   Continue reading

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