Fortified Wines

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Fortified wines are simply wines that have been added with brandy or any other neutral spirit that allows an increase in its alcohol content. A certain wine is said to be fortified if it contains more alcohol that what the ordinary yeast fermentation process can provide. Fortified wines usually contain between 17 to 21 percent alcohol while ordinary unfortified wines can contain somewhere from 14 to 17 percent or below.

The process of fortifying wines actually has more of a reason then just making it more intoxicating. The practice of fortifying wines was born sometime during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. It was a time of great explorations where long voyages were the norm. Explorers during that time were trying to find a solution as to how they may be able to preserve the wines for such long voyages. It just so happens that some wine makers at that time discovered that adding alcohol into the wines seems to help preserve it and prevent it from spoiling. During that time, brandy was used in order to fortify wines with alcohol. Nowadays, there are many other options available that would help in increasing the alcohol content of wines.

Fortified wines are different from other spirits in that wines are made through the fermentation process and then fortified with alcohol whereas most spirits are the end result of certain processes of distillation. More so, fortified wines only have an alcohol content that is relatively lower than common spirits but higher than your typical table wine. How the wines are being fortified can also affect how it will come out. If brandy, the fortifying agent, is added after the fermentation process, what will come out would be dry wine. But if the brandy is added before fermentation, a sweet wine with high sugar content would be the result.

There are different types of fortified wines today. There are Sherries, Ports, Marsalas, Madeiras, and Muscats. Sherries are fortified wines that are made in and around the town of Jerez, Spain. Port wines are fortified wines that came from the wineries of Duoro Valley in Portugal. It actually took its name from the city of Oporto which was the port from which such fortified wines were shipped and sent around the world.

Another type of fortified wine is known as the Madeira which was made from the islands in Portugal that go by the same name. This type of fortified wine is prized not only for drinking but also for use in cooking as well. Italy also has its own version of fortified wines that has been known around the globe. It is the Marsala, which is an Italian fortified wine that is being produced in the region than surrounds the city of Marsala in Sicily. Marsala wines are fortified with ethyl alcohol in order to ensure that their quality is preserved especially on long voyages.

Then there is also the Muscat which is a type of fortified wine made from the dark skinned variety of the Muscat grape. It is also the only type of fortified wine named after the type of grape that it was made from. The other types were named after the place where they were made.