Learn About Fortified Wines

Date March 27, 2009

How the heck are fortified wines made?

If you’ve been following this wine blog and have wondered why I haven’t posted anything in a while or have wondered if that’s all there is to learn about wine, first off, no; no it’s not. I apologize for the long period between this and my last post; personal business has kept me away. Second, though I have time now to tell you all the great things you’ve ever wanted to learn about wine, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the short post I’m going to make today. Don’t fret, however; the posts following this one will renew your faith in this wine dork’s attempts at wine education. Consider this tidbit of wine knowledge a prelude of sorts.

As I’ve been discussing the different types of wine production over the past several posts, I thought I should include fortified wines and how they are made. I covered them once before in my post, Fortified Wines, Pickled Homosapiens, but only to the degree of explaining what types of fortified wine are available. This time we will be looking at the production side. It’s going to be a long read, one spread out over several posts, but one you will definitely walk away from with having more info on fortified wine that you thought was possible. So, enough with the blah blah as I tell my girlfriend, let’s get on with it. Yeah, she hates that.

Fortified Wine Production 101

If you don’t know what it means for a wine to be fortified, let me explain. Back during England’s war with France in the opening of the 1700s wine was hard to come by for the English, as they got most of their juice from none other than the French. Wine was soon shipped from Portugal, but few of the barrels made the long journey before spoiling in their casks from bacteria and oxidation (air getting to the wine). Somehow someone discovered that if you added neutral grape spirits or brandy to the wine, it acted as a preservative, thus stopping the wine from further fermentation, oxidizing and spoiling.

Fortified wines today are more a practiced tradition rather than being produced through necessity. The neutral grape spirit or brandy is added during the fermentation process or immediately following. While not exactly wines per se fortified wines do fill a niche for many wine connoisseurs and have done so for ages with great success. Even people new to wine are finding that some fortified wines, like Port, make a great sweet wine for beginners.

Let’s take a quick second to look at the two different fortification varieties.

The few that are fortified after fermentation are Sherry (originally from Jerez, Spain), Sercial and Verdelho (Madeira wines) from Portugal. Most of these wines have faux counterparts elsewhere around the globe and are easily recognizable as such as with American Sherry and American Madeira (much of which I would use only for cooking). Sugars are added back into the wines as needed after fermentation is complete.

The rest, fortified during fermentation, are: Port wine, Marsala from Sicily, Bual and Malmsey (Madeiras) from Portugal and the vins doux naturels of France. These wines rely on the residual sugars of the grapes leftover from the fermentation process.

I think that’s going to do it. Like I said it’s a short post, not much to glean, yet still a good overview of what’s to come. Production of these wines is a broad subject and will take several posts for each, possibly. But it will be good reading and what else is there to do but learn about wine and get to know fortified wines better?

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Related posts:

  1. Fortified Wines, Pickled Homosapiens
  2. Learn About Wine Fermentation
  3. Learn About White Wine Production
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