The Ins And Outs Of Fortified Wine

There are a wide variety of different types of wine available on the market. From well known kinds of wine such as red and white, to more niche examples such as sparkling and dessert.

There are countless ways in which to mix and match these drinks and their elements, but today we’re going to be taking a deeper look at one particular type of wine known as fortified wine.

It’s quite likely that you’ve heard of port or sherry, which are perhaps the most famous types of fortified wine.

It is consumed all around the world and often associated with sailors from days gone by.

This connection is probably due to the origins of port, and many other fortified wines for that matter.

Fortified wines were designed with longevity in mind, which was particularly useful for transportation purposes when travelling long distances at sea.

But why was this necessary, and what exactly are the ins and outs of fortified wine?

 

What Is A Fortified Wine?

When looking at the basics of fortified wine, it isn’t that hard to understand. The process of fortifying simply entails adding another alcohol such as brandy or spirits to a base wine.

This is done in order to increase the alcohol content by 18 to 20%. This can be achieved by adding brandy to a base wine during the fermentation process.

There are different rules and regulations for what constitutes a fortified wine based upon its location of origin.

Port can only come from certain parts of Portugal, and has to follow somewhat strict guidelines to meet the criteria.

This same rule applies to each variety of fortified wine, which makes it a fairly interesting type of wine.

As was mentioned previously, the description of a fortified wine is quite simple, but let’s take a deeper look at some of the wines and how they’re actually made.

 

Port

Port is a fortified red wine that comes from Duoro, which is a region of Portugal. The reason the port comes from Duoro is largely due to the great conditions.

When it comes to growing strong, ripe red grapes, there are few places better than Duoro.

Most of the popular red varieties that are used in the port making process come from Portugal, and these include Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz.

Port is naturally very sweet. It has a rich and full flavour, which some would describe as hearty and moreish.

Ruby port is perhaps the most popular variety of port.

It’s a deep purple drink with many delightful tastes playing off one another such as raspberry, chocolate and blackberry.

Another popular type of port is Tawny port. With a somewhat more complex flavour that contains caramel, nut, and cinnamon, it is identifiable by its amber complexion.

 

How Is Port Made?

As was mentioned previously, port is made from grape varieties found in Portugal.

These grapes are crushed in the same way that most red wines are, creating a juice with skins and sediment in.

Once this part of the process is done the fermentation process can begin. The fermentation process for port is much shorter than some other wine varieties.

During this process, the tannins and colours of the grapes are extracted at a faster pace than with red wines.

Yeast is then added to the grape juice which begins to trigger a reaction within it. This converts the grape sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Where this differs from the usual wine fermentation process is that it is stopped halfway through as opposed to allowing the process to reach a finish.

This is because if you allow the process to finish, then all of the sugar will be converted into alcohol, and when it comes to port you need to keep this sugar.

Around here is the part in which the fortification process comes into play. The way you stop fermentation is by killing the yeast that causes it.

To do this, you must inject more alcohol of a stronger variety such as brandy.

The extra strength of this alcohol kills off the yeast and stops any fermentation. This is known as fortifying, and is the reason for the sweetness of fortified wines.

Once this is done, the drink is aged in an oak barrel and eventually bottled.

Oak aging can vary in time scale depending upon the needs and preference of the manufacturer, with some ports aged up to an impressive 40 years.

 

Sherry

Sherry is made in Andalucia, one of the most renowned wine regions in Spain. The fortified wines of Andalucia are made using Palomino, Muscat and Pedro Ximenez grape varieties.

Each of these wines has a unique flavour profile that adds to their individual appeal.

Sherry is a versatile fortified wine with a range of styles and colours. From light and dry to dark and sweet, sherry can do it all. But how is sherry made, and in what ways does it differ from port?

 

How Is Sherry Made?

The sherry making process is not too dissimilar to the port making process but there are key differences.

When the grapes are crushed, they are also pressed to remove the skins.

Sherry also needs full fermentation to take place. This means that all of the sugars are converted into alcohol, rather than prematurely preserved.

Once the fermentation is complete, another grape derived alcohol is added and this fortifies the wine.

Sherry is stored in a different kind of barrel known as a ‘butt’, which doesn’t impart an oak flavour like with port.

The process is known as solera ageing and is an important factor in giving sherry it’s distinct taste.

 

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide has helped you to understand fortified wines more.

There are plenty more examples to look at, such as Marsala and Vermouth, but by focusing on the process required to make port and sherry you can gain a basic understanding of the ins and outs of fortified wine.

For more information on the wonderful world of wine storage, feel free to check out more of our content.

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