Fortified wines are a style of wines that have had a grain neutral spirit made from grapes added to them either during or after fermentation. The main purpose of this process is to “fortify” the wine or preserve the wine. Below are the four main types of fortified wines and their individual styles.
Porto wine is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley, near the city of Oporto. It is typically a sweet red wine, often served as a dessert wine, and comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.
Fortified wines in the style of Port are also produced outside Portugal, most notably in Australia and United States. Only port produced in Portugal may be labeled as “Porto”.
The wine produced is “fortified” by the addition of a neutral grape based spirit in order to stop the fermentation process. This retains the residual sugar in the wine and boosts the alcohol content. The wine is then usually stored in caves and aged in barrels.
Ports can be broken down into two categories: cask-aged port or bottle aged port.
Cask aged: Ruby Port is a younger port that exhibits many flavors of dried fruit such as raisins, prunes and plums. Along with the dried fruit you will often find flavors of mocha and coffee.
Tawny Port is lighter and more delicate than ruby due to a longer aging time in the cask. Tawny ports have more caramel, nut and maple flavors with a lighter color due to the extended aging. Aged Tawny ports can be left in the cask for as long as 40 years before bottling!
Bottle aged: Bottle aged ports see less time in casks, but age in the bottle over time developing rich and full flavors. Bottle aged ports are more similar in color and flavors to Ruby port, but are considered the best in the world! Here are some examples of bottle aged ports:
Late Bottle Vintage: made from a single vintage, bottled 4-6 years after harvest.
Vintage Character: similar to Late Bottle Vintage, but is made from a blend of vintages from the better harvests of grapes.
Vintage Port: aged two years in casks and will mature for many years in the bottle. Vintage ports are only made in the years where there is an exceptional harvest!
The biggest difference between cask aged and bottle aged is that cask aged ports are ready to drink as soon as they are bottled and will not mature in the bottle. Bottle aged ports will improve as they rest in the bottle. Some good Vintage Ports will age up to 30 years after the vintage date on the bottle.
Marsala is a fortified wine produced near the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily. Marsala is produced in almost the same manner as Sherry. You will generally find either sweet or dry Marsala. Marsala is typically served as an aperitif like Sherry or in many cooking applications.
Sherry is the second most recognizable fortified wine. Sherry originates from Spain and is quite different from port. With Sherry, the neutral grape based spirit is added after fermentation. Sherry is usually a blend of multiple years of wine, that is why you very seldom see a vintage date on the bottle.
Sherry does not usually improve with age in the bottle, but because the wine is already oxidized it will store well over an extended time period. Once opened, light Sherries like Fino and Manzanila should consumed within days. Richer Cream Sherries can last up to a month once opened.
Sherries are classified into five general categories:
Fino-the driest of the traditional varieties of Sherry.
Manzanilla-a lighter style of Fino.
Amontillado-dry to medium dry and darker in color than Fino.
Oloroso-dry to medium dry, aged longer than Amontillado and Fino.
Cream-a sweetened Oloroso.
While dry sherry is more popular in Spain, cream sherry is more popular in the United States. One of the most delicious cream sherries is Pedro Ximenez.
Pedro Ximenez grapes are harvested and then dried for up to two weeks before making cream sherry. This drying concentrates the sugar and flavor of the grapes. Pedro Ximenez has flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, cocoa and coffee. Cream Sherry and Pedro Ximenez are considered dessert style wines and pair will with most sweet, rich desserts.
Drier Sherries are often best served with lighter fare such as hors d’oeuvres and fish. Sherry is a very nice aperitif wine and best served chilled.
Madeira is a fortified wine from Portugal made in the Madeira Islands. Styles ranges from dry to sweet and are often served in a similar fashion to Sherry. Madeira is also often used in many cooking applications.
Besides being fortified, Madeira undergoes an additional step of oxidization. The wine is essentially “cooked” at a high temperature for an extended length of time. This oxidation helps give Madeira a long life in the bottle, even after it is opened.
There are four major styles of Madeira, named according to the grape varietal used to produce the wine. Listed in order of dry to sweet: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia (also known as Malmsey).