How To Choose A Good Fortified Wine
Sep 20, 2023
Fortified wine was once seen as the preserve of stuffy gentleman’s clubs or gatherings of genteel older ladies, but in recent years it has become a more fashionable beverage. This is a very welcome development as there are many fine fortified wines to choose from. Here is a guide to some of the most popular types and how to pick the perfect bottle.
What is fortified wine?
Fortified wine is a regular wine with added distilled spirit. This increases the alcohol content and also prolongs the shelf life. In fact, it is thought that they were first created to ensure that wine could be well-preserved on long sea voyages. Typically, brandy or a neutral spirit is added to a still wine. This raises the alcohol content from about 12 or 13% to 18 or 20%.
The wines can be sweet or dry, and they have strong rich flavours and a high alcohol quota. For this reason, they are generally served in small quantities as an aperitif or an after-dinner drink.
Types of fortified wine
Port is probably the best-known type of fortified wine. It’s a red wine that is produced in the Duoro Valley region of Portugal, and there are strict regulations on where and how it is produced. It is made with very ripe red grapes, particularly the Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz varieties, and usually fortified with brandy.
Classic port is aged in bottles or wooden barrels for several years or even decades to ensure a full rich flavour. However, there are various styles, including ruby port, which is aged in bottles and typically the most affordable port.
Tawny port is usually aged in oak barrels for ten years or more, and is sweeter and heavier. Vintage port is used to describe a wine produced from a single years’ harvest, which is not always possible, thus increasing the rarity value and price.
Port is a great after-dinner drink that goes well with cheese, chocolate, and desserts.
Sherry is produced in the Adalusian region of southern Spain, and encompasses a wide range of flavours from very sweet to very dry. It’s made with native varieties of grape, including the Palomino, Muscat or Pedro Ximénez, and fortified with grape spirits.
Quality dry sherries to look out for include Manzanilla and Fino. Amontillado and cream sherries tend to be sweeter with complex nutty and fruity flavours.
Here in Britain, we tend to only drink sherry at Christmas, but in Spain it often accompanies tapas tasting dishes.
As you might expect, Madeira is made in the Portuguese Madeira Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. As with sherry, Madeira can be dry or sweeter depending on the production method and type of grapes used. It’s made with an exceptionally long heating and maturation process, and some Madeiras can last well over 100 years!
It’s considered to be a good aperitif or dessert wine.
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