Before we begin, please note that fortified wine is a type/style. In a layman’s language, fortified wines are regular wines that are “fortified” by adding a hint of brandy (or some other distilled spirit), to give them a longer shelf life. The Italian Marsala or Portuguese Port, are some of the popular examples for fortified wines. Like any other wine, a fortified wine can be consumed whenever fancied but is often enjoyed post-dinner. This, however, doesn’t mean that they can be specifically categorized as dessert wines only. (More about that in a bit!)
The ‘fortification’ also means that these wines have a higher alcohol content than other wines.
Fortified Wines vs Dessert Wines
While some online resources on the subject may lead you to believe that fortified wines are the same as dessert wines, they are not. In a nutshell, dessert wine is a broad category covering several types of wines, including sweet fortified wines. Not all fortified wines qualify as dessert wines either.
History of Fortified Wines
Fortified wines didn’t come into being due to their taste. The distinctive reason is preservation. Before refrigeration or the era of wine bottles as we have them today, preservation failure was every winemaker’s worst nightmare. The wine was transported in casks, which were not air-tight as today’s bottles. This meant that wine would oxidize after a while, converting to vinegar. (Think about red and white wine vinegars!) This led to winemakers adding certain spirits to their wine to preserve them. Technically speaking, this is because ‘ethanol’ (which actually is alcohol) is an antiseptic. Let us add here that not only does the addition of distilled spirit preserve the wine, it also adds a range of delightful flavours to it (which is why fortified wine are enjoyed till date.)
Notable Fortified Wines
1. Port – One of the most well known fortified wines in the world, Port comes from Portugal and is fortified with brandy. It is a sweet wine.
2. Sherry – A Spanish fortified wine, Sherry is usually dry with a strong profile. This, however, doesn’t mean that sweet Sherry wines aren’t popular at all. In fact, many make for excellent dessert wines. These wines are also fortified by adding brandy to the mix.
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