Fortified wine is a wine that is made from adding additional alcohol, typically brandy, during the fermentation process. Originally, the reason for fortifying wine was to preserve the wine from turning acetic (vinegar). This practice also helps to preserve the wine.
Flor Fino sherry is an exception to this where the wine is left till it is completely dry before the extra alcohol is added.
Types of Fortified Wines
Many different wines styles have developed around the use of fortification in winemaking.
The most popular include:
- Madeira (Madeira (Malmsey)
- Liqueur Muscat
Fortified Wines are different from spirits made from wine.
While both have increased alcohol content, spirits such as brandy are the result of a process of distillation, while fortified wines have these spirits such as brandy added to them. Fortified Wines generally have an alcohol content around 18% to 20%Alc./vol which sits between that of wines and spirits.
Fortified wines are usually called dessert wines in the U.S and sometimes in Australia, but are called liqueur wines in Europe.
In the UK they are called fortified wines except where the European Union insists on the use of liqueur wine.
Sherry, one of many fortified wines is typically made from the Palomino grape and classified into various styles; Fino ( dry ) Amontillado ( sweet ) and Oloroso ( cream ).
Sherry production utilises a dynamic method of blending and aging the wines, known as the Solera system.
Muscat and Tokay styles are made from the Red Frontignac variety and Muscadelle variety respectively.
To create both the traditional Australian Muscat and Tokay styles, the fruit needs to be picked at much higher sweetness levels or beaume, so that after fortification, the high levels of natural grape sugar is maintained. In Australia, we are not allowed to use cane sugar for sweetening. It has to be natural grape sugar.
We achieve the required baume by allowing the fruit to naturally ripen for longer by leaving to hang on the vines before hand picking. After picking, the fruit is crushed & allowed to ferment for about 24 hours before pressing & fortifying. With the addition of high strength 96% ethanol, we arrest the fermentation & thereby preserve the natural grape sugars.
The grapes are allowed to ripen and shrivel on the vines before picking and crushing, therefore attaining a much higher sugar content. Due to the fact that the wines start fermentation higher sugar content than general wines do, the finished wine is then aged in oak casks. The ageing period is determined by the wines quality, & the market to which it is destined. Generally, Australian fortified wines are made from blending wines from different vintages to achieve the quality required, meaning that the best wines are created from very old base wines to which younger fresher wines have been blended. As wine ages, it becomes more & more concentrated as the water evaporates, which also means that the wine become more acidic. The younger fresher wine restores the balance of fruit flavour & mouth feel. The term to express the complexity of aged fortified wine is Rancio Character. The older the wine the more Rancio you expect to see.
In very young wines, you see young unsophisticated fruit flavours & characters.. Appealing, but not quite the same as older wines which have much more depth of flavour, personality & character.