Continuing from our guide to ‘what are fortified wines?’, in this article we will be exploring some of the most popular types of fortified wines, what you can expect from them and how they are made.
Port is produced in the Douro region of Portugal. Protected by law, the term Port can only be used to describe Portuguese Port wines. A flavourless brandy of 77 percent alcohol, known as aguardente, is added to the wine during the fermentation process when the grapes reach around seven percent ABV. This gives Port wine a sweet flavour, as the fermentation of the sugar is stopped at this point.
While over 80 grape varietals are allowed to be turned into Port, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional are amongst the most iconic and high-quality grapes, producing delicious fruity flavours. Although white and rosé Port is also produced, the vast majority of Port is red. Red Port can be classified in a variety of styles:
Ruby Port and Reserve Port are fruity Ports that are aged for a short time in a vat or tank. They are intended to be drunk young.
Tawny Port is aged in vats, and Aged Tawny can be aged for up to 40 years! The older the Port, the more intense the ageing bouquet is in the drink, adding complex layers of flavours to the standard fruity tastes. Aged Tawny is typically available in 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old formats. It will be bottled when it is ready to be drunk, meaning that you can drink it straight away, without having to patiently wait for this ageing process to happen yourself!
The finest wine available from a specific vintage will be bottled earlier than most Ports and will require bottle ageing to mature the flavours further. This is quite different to the other types of Port, which are matured in vats and ready to drink when bought. There won’t be a Vintage Port every year, as only the very best harvests are turned into Vintage Port!
Late Bottled Vintage Port
Late Bottled Vintage Port is produced from a single vintage wine that is aged for around seven years in a cask, as opposed to being bottled earlier as with the Vintage Port. This process creates a very fruity, yet highly tannic wine.
Sherry originates from Andalucía in the south of Spain. The chalky soils of this region help to produce a wine with a slightly salty taste. Viticulture has been practised in this region for over 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest wine producing areas in Europe.
The primary grape type used is the Palomino Fino varietal, which is a white grape with good levels of acidity. While Palomino Fino is used for most styles of Sherry, the Pedro Ximenez grape is used for sweeter styles of wine.
The process of producing Sherry is very complex and particular and differs from other fortified wine-making practices. White wine is fermented and placed in a ‘Solera System’ – barrels that are stacked up on their sides in a pyramid-like shape. Yeast develops on the wine, known as flor, which stops the wine turning to vinegar and adding extra spice and flavour to the wine. The wine gets transferred from the top of the Solera system down through each layer over time, blending with older wine each time to create a complex ageing process. Alternatively, Sherry can be aged oxidatively, by being left in contact with the air. A number of types of Sherry can be produced:
A dry Sherry that is aged solely under the yeast layer, producing a lighter drink, in both style and colour. It is also the least alcoholic form of Sherry, as it will only be fortified to 15 percent ABV.
Oloroso Sherry is produced simply by leaving the wine in contact with the air, so no yeast is added to this style. It, therefore, presents far more intense flavours and colours and tends to be far more alcoholic than Fino Sherry – usually a minimum of 18 percent ABV.
Palo Cortado and Amontillado style Sherry is aged firstly under flor, before being aged oxidatively, producing a dry wine fortified to around 17 percent ABV.
Cream and Dulce Sherry is produced using a sweeter grape varietal for a more dessert-like sip. These Sherries tend to see the most variation in quality and price.
Muscat is a family of grape varieties that produce sweet, floral and fruity fragrant wines, which makes them perfect for creating a deliciously sweet fortified wine.
Fortification of the wine happens fairly early in the fermentation stages, allowing the Muscat grapes to retain a lot of their aromatic qualities. This means that Muscat also retains a great deal of sugar, making it a particularly sweet wine. Further flavour can be added during the ageing process; for example, oak barrel ageing can add some delicious dried-fruit notes.
There are actually over 200 different varieties of grape in the ‘Muscat’ family, although those most commonly used for wine are Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blancs and Muscat Ottonel. The main types of Muscat wine include:
French Vin Doux Naturels (VDNs)
In France, most fortified wines will be referred to as VDNs, which means that the wines are naturally sweetened by the sugars from the grape itself, rather than from any additives. The majority of French Muscat wine will be produced in the south coast and Rhone Valley area, as the hotter climate here is best for producing grapes with high sugar content.
Australia’s incredibly warm climate is well-suited to the growth of these sugary grapes, developing incredible sweet and fruity wines, so Muscat produced in the hot Rutherglen area of Victoria, Australia is particularly popular. These Muscat wines get their unique factor from the fact that they are aged for a minimum of three years in an oak barrel. Some such wines have been known to be aged for up to 105 years here! Barrel ageing the wine actually further increases the amount of sugar present in the wine.
Image Credit: y kawahara
Originating from and produced on the Portuguese Madeira Islands, this fortified wine is available in a variety of styles, ranging from dry to sweet. When transporting the wine across seas in the 15th and 16th century, it was discovered that the heat from the sun had developed the flavours of the wine. As such, heating the wine has become an integral part of the Madeira winemaking process. There are two ways of achieving this effect, the Cantiero method and the Estufagem method. For Estufagem, Madeira wine is placed in stainless steel barrels and heated to around 50 degrees C, typically using hot water, for around three months. The wines are then rested and aged in oak barrels and cannot be sold for at least two years after the harvest.
The Canteiro method is more traditional and is used for the more expensive, better quality wines. Instead of artificially heating the wine, it will be placed in casks in a place that exposes them to heat from the sun. This could be in a roof space, or even simply outside. They will be naturally heated for a minimum of two years.
Around 85 percent of Madeira wines are produced using the Tinta Negra Mole grape, which is a varietal produced from crossing Pinot Noir with Grenache. This varietal is typically used to create non-vintage wines. Vintage varietal Madeira wines will be made from the following noble grape varieties.
A dry-style wine with high levels of acidity, producing a fresh tasting wine with subtle flavours.
A medium-dry and highly acidic wine with a slightly fuller feel.
A richer wine that is medium-sweet. The wine has been slightly oxidised, making the colour darker and the flavours bolder.
This is the sweetest of the Madeira Vintage wines and is the darkest and most complex sip. It typically presents dried fruit flavours.
Which of these fortified wines is your favourite type? Or do you simply prefer the tastes of a standard bottle of red or white? Whatever type of wine you love, ensure that it is kept safely in a Liebherr wine cabinet!