Fortified wines have been produced for centuries, beloved for their complexity and long shelf life. These wines are made by adding a distilled spirit, such as brandy, to halt fermentation and increase alcohol content. The result is a rich, full-bodied wine with a distinctive flavour profile that can be enjoyed as an aperitif or paired with savoury dishes. Among the most famous fortified wines are Port, Sherry, and Madeira. These varieties boast a unique heritage and flavour. Through traditional methods and contemporary techniques, winemakers continue to produce these iconic fortified wines, sustaining a centuries-long tradition of craftsmanship and excellence. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or a casual drinker, everyone should know about these legendary fortified wines and the amazing experiences they promise.
Fortified wine is a type of wine that has been strengthened by the addition of a distilled spirit, most commonly brandy. The fortified wine production process involves adding the distilled spirit, which raises the alcohol level of the wine and also stops the fermentation process by killing off the yeasts responsible for converting the grape sugar into alcohol. This makes fortified wines sweeter and heavier than regular wines. Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Vermouth are the most famous fortified wines. These wines are commonly enjoyed as aperitifs or digestifs or used in cooking to add depth and complexity to dishes. Fortified wines tend to have a longer shelf life than regular ones and can continue improving with age.
AKA: Vinho do Porto – Tawny Port – Vintage Port – Ruby Port – White Port – Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port – Colheita Port
Port wine is a fortified wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal. It is produced from specific grape varieties grown in the region. What sets port wine apart from other wines is its fortification process. During the fermentation of port wine, a neutral grape spirit, often called aguardente, is added. This addition stops fermentation, leaving residual sugars behind and producing higher alcohol content. As a result, port wine tends to be sweeter and stronger than regular wines.
After fortification, port wine is then aged in barrels, which imparts flavours and complexities to the wine. There are different styles of Port, ranging from young and fruity to aged and matured. The aging process can occur in stainless steel tanks, wooden barrels, or a combination of both. The time spent aging can vary, with some ports aged for just a few years and others for several decades.
Port wines are often rich, sweet, and full-bodied. It is deep red and offers a wide range of taste profiles. Common flavour notes include dark fruits like plum and blackberry and hints of chocolate, spices, and sometimes even nuttiness. Regarding pairings, port wine is often served alongside rich desserts such as chocolate cake, custards, or caramel-flavoured treats. It can also be a great accompaniment to strong, flavourful cheeses like blue cheese or Roquefort. Additionally, some enjoy port wine on its own as a digestif or as a standalone drink to savour its unique characteristics.
Port wine offers a distinctive taste experience with its sweetness, richness, and complex flavours.
Here are some popular styles of Port
Port comes in various styles, each with its own characteristics and aging methods.
Considered the pinnacle of port wine, Vintage Port is made from grapes harvested in a single exceptional vintage year. It is aged in barrels for a short time before being bottled, allowing it to continue aging for many years in the bottle. Vintage Ports are known for their full-bodied nature, intense flavours, and potential for long-term aging.
Vintage Ports are often served slightly cooler, around 16-19°C/60-66°F.
This slightly lower temperature helps to showcase the wine’s complex flavours and balance, allowing its nuances to shine.
Tawny Ports are aged in wooden barrels, which expose the wine to gradual oxidation and increase its exposure to oxygen. This aging process imparts a tawny colour to the wine and leads to nuts, dried fruits, and caramel flavours. Tawny Ports have a smoother and mellower character compared to Ruby Ports. Tawny Port can be aged up to 40 years in neutral oak barrels.
Tawny Ports are typically enjoyed at slightly cooler temperatures, around 12-16°C/54-60°F.
Serving them a bit cooler can help to accentuate their nutty and caramel notes.
Ruby Ports are known for their vibrant, deep red colour and fruity flavours. They are aged in large steel or concrete tanks or vats, specifically designed to prevent oxygen from affecting the Port, preserving their youthful and lively characteristics. Ruby Ports typically have pronounced fruit flavours of berries and cherries and are generally less complex than other port styles. Ruby Port is aged for a much shorter period than Tawny Port – typically not more than three or four years.
Ruby Ports are often served slightly chilled or at a cool room temperature, around 14-16°C (57-61°F).
This temperature range helps to highlight their fruit-forward characteristics.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
LBV Ports are made from grapes harvested in a single vintage, like Vintage Ports, but they are aged for a more extended period in barrels before being bottled. This aging results in a mellower, more approachable wine than Vintage Port. LBV Ports often exhibit rich flavours and a dark ruby colour.
The recommended serving temperature for Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port is around 16-18°C/60-64°F.
LBV Ports are typically served at slightly cooler temperatures to enhance their flavours and drinking experience.
White Port is produced using white grape varieties and can vary in style from dry to sweet. Dry White Ports have a crisp and refreshing character, similar to white wines, while sweet White Ports offer fruity and honeyed notes. White Port can be enjoyed as an aperitif or mixed into cocktails.
Dry White Ports are typically served chilled like white wines at temperatures around 8-12°C (46-54°F). The colder serving temperature can enhance their refreshing qualities.
Sweet White Ports can be served a bit warmer, around 12-16°C (54-60°F), to allow their aromas and flavours to develop.
It’s important to note that each port producer may have their own unique variations and aging techniques, which can influence the specific characteristics of the wine. Exploring different port styles can be a delightful journey into the world of fortified wines.
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AKA: Jerez – Xérès – Fino – Manzanilla – Manzanilla Pasada – Amontillado – Oloroso – Amoroso – Palo Cortado – Jerez Dulce
Sherry is a fortified wine from southern Spain’s Andalusia region. While Sherry is produced in Spain, it has gained popularity worldwide. It is made from white grapes and is fortified with brandy, which increases its alcohol content. It is made primarily from white grapes, mainly the Palomino grape variety. However, other grape varieties such as Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Moscatel are also used in some styles of Sherry.
Sherry can range in style from light and dry to dark and sweet, with different aging techniques playing a vital role in their development.
One distinct feature of Sherry’s production is using a unique aging system called the Solera system. This involves blending wines from different vintages in a series of stacked casks. The oldest wines are stored at the bottom; some are regularly drawn off for bottling, while younger wines are introduced at the top. This method ensures consistency in quality and flavour profiles over time.
Sherry has a unique taste and is often enjoyed as an aperitif, digestif, or ingredient for creative cocktails. It can also be paired with seafood, cheese, and tapas. Sherry is a versatile and complex wine that has recently gained popularity due to its diverse flavours and styles.
Dessert sherry is traditionally served slightly chilled in a special, tulip-shaped glass called a copita. However, any small glass will do if you don’t have copitas lying around your house.
Depending on the type of Sherry being served, the temperature can vary slightly. It’s also important to note that the serving temperature can affect the overall experience of drinking sherry. Serving it too cold can numb the flavours and aromas, whereas serving it too warm can make the alcohol more intense and overpowering. Overall, it’s best to experiment with different temperatures to find the perfect balance that suits your preference.
Here are some popular styles of Sherry
Different styles of Sherry offer a wide range of flavours and complexities, making it a fascinating wine category to explore. Here are a few examples:
Fino Sherry is a type of fortified wine originating from the Andalusian region of Spain that undergoes a biological aging process under a layer of yeast called “flor.” This yeast layer protects the wine from excessive oxidation, giving Fino its fresh and nutty flavours. Fino Sherry wine is often enjoyed as an aperitif or paired with light, flavorful dishes. It pairs well with salty foods like olives and almonds. It is typically dry and light-bodied with a fresh, floral aroma.
Fino Sherry is best served chilled between 6-8°C/42-46°F to enhance its crisp and refreshing character.
Amontillado sherry is a fortified wine from southern Spain’s Andalusia region with nutty and smoky notes. It starts its aging process under flor, similar to Fino Sherry. However, it is exposed to oxygen, resulting in a darker colour and nuttier, richer flavours. It balances the characteristics of Fino and Oloroso. It pairs well with hard cheeses and roasted meats. Serving Amontillado sherry at the right temperature can enhance the tasting experience, balancing the wine’s acidity, body, and sweetness. The wine brings out complex aromas and flavours like toasted nuts, dried fruit, and caramel. Once the bottle is opened, the Sherry should be consumed within a few days and stored in a cool, dark place.
The ideal serving temperature for Amontillado sherry is between 13-14°C/55-57°F.
Oloroso Sherry is a fortified wine that originated in Spain’s Sherry Triangle. Oloroso Sherry is an oxidative style. It is aged without a flor yeast layer, allowing the wine to oxidize and develop intense flavours of caramel and dried fruits, nuts, and spice. It is a full-bodied, dry wine typically richer and fuller-bodied than Fino or Amontillado, making it a good match for strong cheeses, game meats, or dark chocolate. It is important to store Oloroso Sherry at a consistent cellar temperature, around 13-16°C (55-60°F), to maintain its quality and avoid any flavour degradation. When serving, it is recommended to use a tulip-shaped glass to help aerate the wine and enhance its aromas.
To fully appreciate its aromas and flavours, it is best served at slightly chilled room temperature, around 16-18°C/60-64°F.
Pedro Ximénez (PX)
PX Sherry is made primarily from the Pedro Ximenez grape variety. The grapes are sundried to concentrate their sugars before fermentation, producing a very sweet, dark, and syrupy wine. PX pairs exceptionally well with desserts, especially chocolate-based ones, or as a topping for ice cream.
Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry is typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Its rich, sweet flavours are best appreciated when served between 12-15°C (54-59°F), but it is important not to serve it too cold as this can mute the flavours and aromas.
AKA: Rainwater – Sercial – Verdelho – Bual (Boal) – Malmsey Madiera
Madeira wine is a fortified wine produced on the island of Madeira, Portugal, known for its rich and complex flavours. It is typically made from grape varieties, including the Tinta Negra, Malvasia, Bual, and Verdelho grapes. The wine is aged using a unique process called estufagem, which involves heating the wine in barrels to a high temperature, followed by a cooling period. This process gives the wine its distinctive caramel and nutty flavours. Madeira wine can be enjoyed as an aperitif, dessert wine, or even paired with a meal. It also has a long shelf life, with some varieties aging for over a century. Madeira wine is known for its high quality and is one of the world’s oldest and most respected wines.
Madeira wine should be served at room temperature, around 20°C/68°F.
To enjoy Madeira wine’s full range of flavours and aromas, it should not be chilled before serving. In warmer weather, it is recommended to store the wine in a cool place or a wine fridge, but it should be taken out about an hour before serving to allow it to come to room temperature. A slightly higher serving temperature can also be used to enhance certain styles of Madeira wine. For example, a Boal or Malmsey Madeira with rich and nutty flavours can be served at 22-24°C/72-75°F to bring out more of its depth. Overall, it is important to avoid serving Madeira wine too cold as it can mask the unique characteristics of this fortified wine.
These temperature ranges are meant as a starting point; you can adjust them based on your taste preferences. It’s always a good idea to let the wine warm up a bit in the glass if it’s initially served cooler to enjoy its aromas and flavours fully.
Feel free to experiment and adjust the temperature based on your own taste preferences.
The classic wine categories include sparkling, white (light, medium and full-bodied), rosé, red (light, medium and full-bodied) and dessert wine.
Sparkling wine is known for its effervescence, with carbon dioxide bubbles naturally forming during fermentation. White (light, medium and full-bodied) wine is usually produced from lighter-coloured grapes with a lighter body and a more delicate flavour. Rosé wine is a pink-coloured wine made from red grapes with a refreshing taste and versatile food pairings. Red (light, medium and full-bodied) wine is typically made from dark-coloured grapes, giving it a deeper colour and bold flavour profile. Dessert wine is a type of wine that is sweet and often served after a meal or paired with desserts.
These classic wine categories are the foundation of the wine industry and the starting point for exploring the many variations and complexities within each category.
This article is part of “How to plan an unforgettable wine & cheese party”
These tips are from my own experience;
I’m neither a party organizer, a sommelier, nor a turophile (a cheese connoisseur).
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