A Quick Guide to Fortified Wines

The fortification process became popular in the late 17th century by the English to preserve and stabilize wines for a long sea exploration or voyage.

The fortification process became popular in the late 17th century by the English to preserve and stabilize wines for a long sea exploration or voyage

Fortified wines differ in sweetness, origin, flavor, and color. However, they all have one thing in common, which is fortification. This process refers to adding the grape spirit to wine after or during fermentation. It’s a technique or method used to stop fermentation and buildup alcohol content.

The fortification process became popular in the late 17th century by the English to preserve and stabilize wines for a long sea exploration or voyage. Before the introduction of this technique, most of these wines were produced as unfortified, still wines.

But lots of decisions, such as how it is matured and when is a wine fortified, cause a differing array of bottlings. Here’s a quick guide to the world of fortified wines. Take a read!


Sherry wines originate from the dry, hot southern Spain. Although the white, low-acid Palomino grape has the upper hand in the region, it is sometimes enhanced and furthered by robust Pedro Ximenez (like the 1927 Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera) and aromatic Moscatel.

Generally, fermentation occurs in ordinary, bland stainless-steel tanks, stemmed by lengthy aging in neutral barrels. Since Palomino is a neutral grape, the process of aging is critical to the style of the resulting wine.

Moreover, Sherry wines are stored to mature in rows of barrels, also known as criaderas through the solera system, by which fresh wine is added to aged wines. Therefore, resulting in many wine vintages being mixed up over time.

To put it simply, wine producers take a portion of vintage wine. Then, winemakers add a younger wine. Additionally, each Sherry style has its solera system; perhaps most of them might be decades old.

There are many styles of Sherry. However, the dry ones fall under two categories; the matured dry ones with oxygen contacts, such as oloroso, and dry sherry wines aged through a veil of yeast, including Manzanilla and fino.

Also, there are hybrid styles such as Palo Cortado and amontillado that both go through aging methods. Typically, first-press and free-run are utilized for Palo Cortado and fino, while for oloroso, second-press juice is used.

First-press and free-run need to have a neutral character, soft, and more elegant. It enables the yeast to leave a strong, robust yeast character. On the other hand, for the oloroso style, it needs to have more complexity, body, and structure.

Yeast-aged Sherry wines are fortified with a grape spirit. The wine should reach 15 to 15.5 percent abv to encourage the yeast to grow. Thus, protecting the wine from oxygen and saturates it with yeasty, almond-like notes and refreshing, dry texture.

Sherry wines aged via oxidation are fortified until 17 percent abv. Because yeast can’t live on to those levels, oxygen can link up with the wine. As a result, it creates caramel-like, nutty notes, and develops, viscous, round texture.


This wine is always fortified and sweet. The dry and warm conditions in the Douro Valley of Portugal make ripe, robust red wines, but white grapes are yielded, too. Port is typically the result of a combination of different grape varieties, unlike Sherry.

The most popular varieties used to make Port include Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao, Tinta Barroca, and Touriga Franca. Port wines are aged in barrel woods. Also, an in-depth tasting is done to determine the wines that are concentrated and structure enough for vintage Port wine production.

Then, the wines are examined to discover those fitting for long-aging in barrels to make high-quality Ports. Other wines are assessed best for bottling after several years or mixed into basic Port wines.


This wine is one of the most famous wines in the world, first fortified in 1773. Although commoditization in the past years led to a decrease in quality, some winemakers in Sicily have restored and used high-caliber, traditional Marsala.

Marsala is stored in rows of cherry or oak barrels through a solera system, like Sherry. The wines could be categorized based on their maturation and are mostly non-vintage. The classifications span from “Vergine” to fine wines.

Vergine refers to wines aged for about five years and is dry. On the other hand, fine wines can be aged for only a year.


Fortified wines are vicious, delicious wines that’s usually enjoyed as a sipping treat after or before dinner. The common fortified wine types are Sherry, Port, and Marsala. These wines have been fortified with the grape spirit like brandy.

The primary use of fortification was to keep and prolong the wine because many wines were susceptible to turn sour during extended sea explorations. The grape spirit enhances and boosts the natural flavors of the wine and is added during the wine’s fermentation.

This technique brings the abv up to 20% abv. Moreover, fortified wines can be produced in either a sweet or dry style.