Fortified wine has a higher alcohol content than most other types of wine. This is not due to the distilling process of the wine, but rather the fact that fortified wines will have a spirit added to it. They are known as fortified wines, as the process of adding alcohol to grape juice is known as fortification. Fortified wines were originally created as a way to preserve wine, allowing it to survive long journeys as trade, at a time when refrigeration and airtight bottling were not possible. Although winemakers have since developed solutions to these issues, fortified wines continue to be enjoyed by wine lovers around the world. We take a look at the different types of fortified wines available and how they are made.
What Type of Alcohol is Used?
There are regulations in place for most wine producers in the world that mean fortified wines can only be created using spirits that have been distilled from grapes. Therefore, grape brandy is typically the chosen spirit for the job, particularly the white and flavourless neutral type. Grape-based spirits are used as they increase the alcohol content without affecting the taste of the wine, as it would simply only add further hints of grape to the drink! The strength of the alcohol used varies from region to region, but it is typically between 70 percent and 98 percent ABV.
Why Are Spirits Added?
As mentioned, spirits were added to wine as a way of preserving it when other forms of preservation were not possible. For one, bacteria were not able to develop at such a high level of alcohol, which reduced the risk of the wine spoiling when being transported or stored, as well as decreasing the levels of oxidation. Now, the addition of more alcohol can be used to age wine for far longer, without risking it turning to vinegar. When done in oak barrels, this lengthy ageing process can create wines with incredible complexity and depth. Spirits are also added to create far sweeter wines, as alcohols higher than 15 percent ABV kill any yeast present in the wine, which stops the sugars from fermenting fully, making the wine sweet naturally.
Sweet vs Dry
Fortified wines are available as sweet or dry. While both types are made by fermenting wine and adding distilled spirits, the point in the process when the spirit is added can determine whether a sweet or dry fortified wine is created. If the spirit is added before the end of the fermentation process, then a sweet wine will be produced, whereas adding the spirit once the wine has finished fermenting will make it drier.
When Should You Drink Fortified Wines?
There is a reason fortified wines are also known as ‘dessert wines’. Most fortified wines will be sweeter than regular wines, so will be used to accompany desserts (or drunk in place of a dessert dish!). They pair best with dishes such as patisserie, or those using cream, chocolate or dried fruit. Fortified wines also work excellently with a cheese platter, with strong or hard cheeses being a classic pairing for Port.
Dry wines, such as Sherry or Vermouth can also be enjoyed as a pre-meal aperitif, or alongside tapas or antipasti dishes, as their dry or bitter tastes pair better with more Mediterranean style flavours.
To learn more about fortified wines, the winemaking processes and the varieties available, check out our guide to the different types of fortified wines.
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