Popular Styles of Fortified Wines
Wines with a booster shot would be a crude way to define fortified wines, but it does create a clear picture of the process involved. Fortified wines are wines to which a distilled spirit has been added. Commonly, a distilled grape spirit is used, brandy is a popular choice.
Necessity is the mother of all inventions and it was in the 17th century when wines had to travel long distances over long periods of time, that fortifying wines was conceived. Winemakers realized that by adding brandy to their wines, it didn’t just improve the taste but also preserved it allowing it travel without getting spoiled. The percentage of alcohol in fortified wines goes upto 17-20%, they are also aged in oak.
Within Europe different regions came up with their variations of fortified wines. We give you a list of few popular styles.
It is sweet red fortified wine from Portugal. Most of Port wine production happens along the River Douro and is made from local grape varietals like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz. Choice of spirit to be added to the wines here is brandy which is added in the tail end of the fermentation process. The alcohol in brandy kills the yeasts which were busy converting sugar into alcohol in the wine, leaving the base wine with natural sugars from the grapes. Dry, off dry and White Port wines are also available but the red is the most popular. Curious thing about Port wines is that most companies have English or Scottish origin; this is simply because Britain was one of the biggest markets for these wines.
Types of Port wines: Styles of Port wine are dependent on the amount of time they spend aging in and in what containers they age. Ruby, Reserve and LBV or Late Bottled Vintage styles of Port wines are aged in oak vats for anywhere between 2 to 6 years. Tawny Port spends longer time in oak, 10 years is often minimum. White Port is made from white grapes and aged for 2-3 years in oak. Coelhita is a Tawny Port from a single vintage. Vintage Port is from the best grapes from a particular year; it is aged for 2 years in oak barrels and the rest of the time they spend in bottles. Crusted is an unfiltered wine; as time passes by the sediments form a crust giving the Port its name.
Andalusia, Spain is home to Sherry. The wines are made from white grapes like Palomino, Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel. Only fortified wines that come from the Sherry Triangle – Puerto de Santa María, Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – can be called Sherry. While there are many variations of Sherry, the most common are Fino, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. At the end of the fermentation process of the base wine, grape spirit is added to increase the alcohol content of the wine which then ages in barrels. As the wine ages, a head is formed called flor which protects the wine from too much oxidation. Olorosso Sherry does not have an excessive build of flor allowing the wine to be oxidized.
The Sistema Solera is another unique and integral facet of Sherry. It is a fractional blending method where barrels are kept in such a way that each year a little bit of a fresh Sherry is blended into an older barrel. This is also the reason why Sherries have no vintage.
Types of Sherry: Sherry and its variations are primarily based on the alcohol percentage they contain. Fino has the minimum alcohol with around 15-16% ABV followed by Manzanilla and Amontillado with 15-17% and 16-18% alcohol respectively. Oloroso and Palo Cortado have around 18-20% alcohol. Cream, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel are the sweeter heavy style of Sherries and generally have much higher alcohol content.
Heat and oxidation are wines worst enemies, but they are Madeira wines’ best friends. Named after the island of Madeira on Atlantic Ocean this fortified wine is made from Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, Malmsey grapes. Wines are heated in temperatures upto 60 degree Celsius for a period of time and then deliberately oxidated. This base white wine is fortified with a neutral spirit, however when the spirit is added is the winemaker’s prerogative depending on his style.
Types of Madeira: Madeira has two levels of differentiation. One is based the noble grapes and the second is based on the blends and age. Reserve is aged for 5 years, Special Reserve for 10 and Extra Reserve for 15 years. Coelhita, similar to Port is a single vintage while Frasequeira spends 20 years aging. Rainwater is aged for around 3 years.
Italy’s fortified wine from Sicily, Marsala is also made in a process similar to Sistema Solera. The wines are made from local Sicilian grape varietals of Grillo, Inzolia and Catarratto. Here again, brandy is the preferred choice of spirit to halt fermentation. It was a trader named John Woodhouse in 1770 who thought there would be a market for these wines beyond the island of Sicily. Types of Marsala are again dependent on the number of years the wines spend maturing.
Types of Marsala: With around 15-20% alcohol Marsala wines are differentiated based on their sweetness (Secco, Semisecco and Sweet), color (Oro, Ambra and Rubino) and age (Fine, Superiore, Superiore Riserva, Vergine and Vergine Riserva).