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Fortified Wine

by Staff Writer - C. Barnett | June 21, 2011

Fortified wine means that extra alcohol has been added to the wine. A fortified wine is typically made from adding additional alcohol during the fermentation process. Originally the extra alcohol was added to preserve the wine for shipping. Now fortified wines have become somewhat of a specialty wine.

Regular table wine is created when crushed grapes are used and fermentation runs its course. A regular table wine has approximately 7 to 14% alcohol in it. A fortified wine is a wine that is "fortified" with additional alcohol. For a fortified wine, normally brandy or a neutral spirit is added in. The brandy is usually made from the same grape as the wine. This brings the alcohol percentage up to 17 to 21%. If the brandy is added after fermentation, the fortified wine is dry, with no residual sugar. If the brandy is added before fermentation is completed (before all of the natural fruit sugar is consumed) the alcohol stops the yeast from converting the sugar and you are left with a sweet fortified wine.

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The four most common fortified wines are Madeira, Marsala, Port and Sherry. The most popular fortified drinking wines are Port and Sherry. Although Madeira and Marsala are sometimes better known as cooking wines, they are also good drinking wines.

  • Madeira Fortified Wine Madeira was named after its birthplace, a Portuguese island off the coast of Africa. Madeira is heated in its production so it can be either dry or sweet.
  • Marsala Fortified Wine Marsala is named for the town on the western tip of Sicily. It is made in both dry and sweet styles.
  • Port Fortified Wine Port comes from Douro Valley in Portugal. Port is a sweet fortified wine and is most commonly served after a meal.
  • Sherry Fortified Wine Sherry comes from the vineyards of Southern Spain. Sherry can range from dry to sweet. A pale, and dry Sherry is served chilled as an aperitif (an alcoholic drink taken before a meal as an appetizer) and a darker, sweet Sherry is commonly enjoyed as an after dinner drink.

Fortified Wine Food Pairings

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Depending on which fortified wine you are drinking, determines the type of food to select to pair with. Fortified wines are used as aperitifs, cooking wines, dessert wines and as table wines. Many cheeses, chocolate desserts, cream-based desserts, fruit torts and nuts, are a great pairing partner with a fortified wine.

  • Madeira Food PairingsMadeira goes well with Fontina cheese, mushrooms, poultry and works great as a pre-dinner sipper. A heavier Madeira Fortified Wine will work well as a dessert cordial. A lighter flavored Madeira Fortified Wine is used as a dessert wine. Madeira can also be used as a cooking wine for flavorful dishes and dessert sauces.
  • Marsala Food PairingsA dry Marsala Fortified Wine pairs well with almonds, olives, smoked meats, soft goat cheeses and walnuts. A sweeter Marsala Fortified Wine goes well with chocolate-based desserts and Roquefort cheese. A traditional food pairing is to use Marsala with a Chicken Marsala recipe and then serve Marsala with the dish.
  • Port Food PairingsPort Fortified Wine is traditionally served with Cheddar or Stilton Cheese, dried fruits, nuts and goes well with chocolate. Port also pairs well with fresh fruit such as apples, grapes, pears and strawberries. Seafood dishes that pair well with Port Fortified Wine are Clam Chowder, Fish Cakes, Smoked Salmon and Spicy Prawns.
  • Sherry Food PairingsSherry is traditionally served in small sipping glasses because of the higher alcohol level. Sherry is usually sipped as an after-dinner drink and sometimes paired with strong cheese or nuts. A good pairing with Sherry is Blue Cheese because the strong flavor of the Blue Cheese is matched with the high alcohol level in the Sherry Fortified Wine. Smoked salmon and ham also pair well with Sherry.
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