How Fortified Wine is Made a.k.a. Port, Sherry & Vermouth (Fortified Wines)

How Fortified Wine is Made a.k.a. Port, Sherry & Vermouth (Fortified Wines)

Glass of Fortified Wine
Before or after a meal, a glass of fortified wine is a lovely treat. Because of the higher alcohol level, you may unwind with only one drink, and both dry and sweet versions are offered to please every palate. However, if you'd like to learn more about how exactly Port, Sherry, and Vermouth are precisely made, then this article is for you. Read along to learn more about the different processes of fortified wines and their variations.

What is Fortified Wine

Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are a classic in Australia[1], and it is made by increasing the wine's alcohol concentration, where it has a distilled spirit added to it during the winemaking process. Fortified wines come in various varieties[2], each categorised by a special set of rules. These rules cover the base wine and base spirit types and the range of alcohol by volume (ABV), sugar content, and age length.


Brief History of Fortified Wines

Brief History of Fortified Wine

Regular grape wines, called fortified wines, have been given an alcohol boost using grape spirits. The fact that this results in a wine with high alcohol content is actual, but that is only part of the complete story or the reason this technique started.

Fortified wines were created to address stability difficulties in the finished wine. As early as 1260 AD[3], sherry, one of the earliest fortified wines, was created. During the 18th century, Port became popular.

Today, sulfites and tightly fitting closures are used to safeguard wines. They were unaware of all the microscopic microorganisms that cause us concern now, and the closures were not nearly as effective. Wine stability would have been considerably more complex with both of these characteristics.

In the past, however, Winemakers discovered that adding grape spirits made wines less prone to deterioration. Now that we know, the higher alcohol concentration causes this stability. Alcohol is intolerant of both yeast and the majority of rotting organisms.

Port and Sherry are the two fortified wines that are most commercially produced.


Making Fortified Wines

Making Fortified Wine

In its most basic form, fortified wine is created by fermenting base wine and adding distilled spirits. The distilled spirits are added at various stages of the process, giving winemakers control over how dry or sweet the fortified wine is. A sweet, fortified wine results from adding the spirit before fermentation is finished. A dry fortified wine results from adding the spirit after fermentation.

Wine fermentation happens when yeast consumes grape sugar molecules and creates ethyl alcohol. A spirit added during the fermentation kills the yeast and produces a sweeter fortified wine since more residual sugar is left over. The yeast can break down a more significant percentage of the sugar content if fermentation is stopped before the spirit is added, producing a drier fortified wine.


Types of Fortified Wine 

Depending on the area, different regulations and standards apply while producing fortified wine. Some of the most common varieties are listed below:

1. Madeira: This fortified wine variety is named after the Madeira Islands in Portugal, where it is made using an inventive artificial heating method called estufagem[4]. Madeira wine varieties include dry wines offered as an apéritif and sweet wines served with dessert. 

2. Port wine: Portuguese Douro Valley is where Port wine is produced. Port comes in several forms, but its most well-known version is a sweet red wine that is ideal as a digestif after meals. White Port, rosé Port, ruby Port, or tawny Port are options for those looking for a different kind of dessert wine. 


3. Sherry: This fortified wine is created from the Palomino, Muscat, or Pedro Ximénez grape and is produced in the Jerez region of Spain. Because the winemaker deliberately exposes the wine to oxygen during sherry production, the wine acquires a nutty and briny flavour profile. Before bottling, the entirety of the barrels is combined with a Portion of the older wines. This process, called the solera technique, is nearly wholly unique to sherry. Like vermouth, sherry is strengthened with brandy and typically contains 15 to 18 per cent alcohol by volume. It should be refrigerated like any other wine, but it will keep its freshness for nearly four times as long as a conventional wine. Sherry has different varieties, from the lighter fino style to the darker oloroso form.

4. Port wine: Portuguese Douro Valley is where Port wine is produced. Port comes in several forms, but its most well-known version is a sweet red wine that is ideal as a digestif after meals. White Port, rosé Port, ruby Port, or tawny Port are options for those looking for a different kind of dessert wine. 


Three Ways to Fortify Wine

Fortified wine can be created in a few different methods.  You can create fortified wine from scratch using grapes or grape juice as the starting point, or you can add spirit to a wine base, in which case you technically can use any type of sweet wine you desire.

Although it's simple to assume that the two methods are fundamentally different, starting the wine from grapes or specially chosen grape juice is recommended if you want the best results. The steps taken in the winemaking process are the same as those in producing traditional wines.

Depending on the type of fortified wine you choose, the only difference is the addition of alcohol at some point. The fermentation process can be started, continued, or finished with the addition of alcohol. However, let's take a closer look at the three methods we could do to fortify the wine.

  1. Adding Alcohol Before Fermentation

Many winemakers have added alcohol to their wine before the fermentation begins, and an example of wine for this is Vermouth[5], where the herbs needed were added to the wine before it is stored. As it ferments and ages, the aroma and sweetness of the alcohol are worthwhile.

The sweetness of the unfermented grape juice is assessed using a particular instrument before alcohol is introduced.

Depending on how strong you want the fortified wine to be, it is possible to calculate how much alcohol to add depending on the juice's sugar content.

For instance, if the grape juice's initial sugar content is 22% and you wish to make a fortified wine with an alcohol concentration of 18%, you must mix 77 parts grape juice with 9,5 parts of 95% alcohol.

The high alcohol concentration at the start of the fermentation is this method's biggest flaw. Given that alcohol kills yeasts, and if you've ever made wine, you probably already know this, fortified wines produced using this technique typically lack a fine structure and are pretty alcoholic.


  1. Adding Alcohol During Fermentation

This technique, common at many well-known wineries, serves two functions. On the one hand, a traditional wine may have alcohol added to it just to stop the fermentation process of producing a sweet wine or from creating a fortified wine.

The amount of alcohol added will depend on your goal. Alcohol, as previously said, destroys yeasts. Therefore, adding it will stop fermentation regardless of your motivation.

The residual sugar left over will vary depending on the juice's initial sugar concentration. This process is used to make Port[6] one of the most well-known fortified wines in the world.

Simply measure the wine's alcohol concentration and calculate how much alcohol to add depending on the desired final alcohol concentration to decide how much alcohol to use.


  1. Adding Alcohol After Fermentation

The final way to strengthen a wine is to add more alcohol after fermentation. You can accomplish this using your wine or a fine wine purchased from a winery, but if you want to wow your guests, brew the wine yourself.

Simply measure the wine's alcohol content to determine the appropriate amount to use. It is advised to use 95% food-grade alcohol to prevent the wine's flavours and fragrances from being changed. Alternatively, add brandy to the wine to make it stronger.

Calculate the appropriate amount of alcohol to add based on the desired final concentration, combine the two liquids, and allow the wine to age for roughly six months in an oak barrel or glass carboy before bottling.

The best-fortified wine to try for this technique is Sherry[7] because the base wines are strengthened with grape spirit once fermentation is finished to raise their final alcohol percentage.

Meanwhile, other well-known fortified wines produced using this technique are Marsala, Jerez, and Madeira.


Making Fortified Wine at Home

You can easily create your fortified wines by adding alcohol during or after the fermentation. As you work on your wine and grapes, you should have grapes with sugar levels between 25 and 35 Brix.  If your sugar levels aren't high enough, you might need to capitalise on your must.

Make sure the yeast you choose has an alcohol tolerance of at least 16%. Champagne yeasts typically have high alcohol tolerances.

Whether you produce a sweet or dry fortified wine will determine when you add the alcohol. When the wine has reached the desired level of sweetness, add your fortifying spirit. If you prefer your wine sweet, taste it while it ferments.

Making your base wine as you usually would, except altering the sugar levels if necessary, is the first step in creating a dry fortified wine. Once the wine has finished fermenting, add your grape spirit.

After fortification, continue cleaning and bottling as you would with any other wine. Using potassium sorbate won't be necessary because the high alcohol content will stop further fermentation.


Must-Try Fortified Wine

Here at Familia Kendricks Imports, we also have a selection of fortified wines for you to choose from at an affordable price. All you need to do is choose which one is most fitting for your taste.

1. Porto Cruz Late Bottle Vintage 2003

Porto Cruz

Porto Cruz LBV 2003 is a late-bottled vintage Portuguese port wine. It has a deep red garnet hue and, as an old port, the aromas of rhubarb and plum, sweet spice, and pepper are present. This port is special because it isn't blended and is let to age for 4-6 years without any interference. The outcome is a magnificently high-quality, mouth-filling unblended port. just like a bite of Christmas pudding.

Region - Portugal - Porto

Grape - Douro Valley Grapes

Alcohol - 20%

Size - 750ml


2. Porto Cruz Ruby Port

Delicious Porto Cruz Ruby Port from Porto, Portugal, has a fruity scent and a little sweetness that is reviving and not overpowering on the taste.

Porto Cruz Ruby Port

Region - Portugal - Porto

Grape - Douro Valley Grapes

Alcohol - 20%

Size - 750ml

Winemaker: Martins Alves


3. Porto Cruz White Port

Port Cruz White Port, which comes from Porto in Portugal, is a unique new world port. The ideal wine for dessert is this Portuguese port. It is best served with ice when lounging by the beach or after a hearty lunch with a sweet dessert like tarta de Santiago.

Porto Cruz White Port

Region - Portugal - Porto

Grape - Douro Valley Grapes

Alcohol - 20%

Size - 750ml

Winemaker: Martins Alves


4. Porto Cruz 30-Year-Old Vintage Port

The Porto Cruz 30-year-old Vintage Portuguese Port is a fusion of four top-shelf, supreme-grade ports that aren't offered to the general public and are aged together in wood casks to produce a harmonious blend of intensely complex flavors. Look no further if you're looking for a gift for someone who would value this caliber of craftsmanship or the ultimate enjoyment.

Porto Cruz 30-Year-Old

Region - Portugal - Porto

Grape - 50% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Tinta Cao (Red)

Alcohol - 20%

Bottle Size: 750ml

Winemaker: Martins Alves


5. Red Vermouth Lacuesta Rojo

Lacuesta vermouth rojo is a sweet red vermouth made in Spain's La Rioja region. This sweet red vermouth has cinnamon and dried Valenciano orange peel flavors. This beverage should be savored with an orange slice over soda and ice or in your preferred Manhattan. It is made by macerating 30 different herbs and spices with Spanish wine.

Red Vermouth Lacuesta Rojo

Region - Spain - La Rioja

Grape - Viura

Alcohol - 15%

Size - 750ml


Start Creating Your Own Fortified Wine Today!

From the overall process and additional information we have mentioned, creating your very own fortified wine would be a breeze. On the other hand, if you need one immediately, don’t hesitate to look around Kendricks Familia ImPorts’ list of numerous wines that will surely fit any occasion!

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