A Comprehensive Guide to Portuguese Fortified Wine

A Comprehensive Guide to Portuguese Fortified Wine

Fortified wines, which are frequently characterised as warming, rich, and buttery, are the ideal selections as the seasons change. This type of wine is produced worldwide using red or white wine as the foundation and neutral grape-based alcohol as the additive.

From well-known varieties like Port and Sherry to lesser-known varieties like Madeira and Moscatel de Setúbal, Spain and Portugal create a variety of fortified wines. Meanwhile, let this article be your comprehensive guide if you want to learn more about Fortified wines.


Portuguese Fortified Wine

The fermentation process in fortified wines has been halted by adding additional alcohol. Producers increase the basic wine's alcohol concentration by adding a distilled spirit, such as grape brandy.

Since the fermentation is stopped when the brandy is added, the sugars that would typically be converted into alcohol over time stay as sugar. This is why fortified wines are sweeter than standard table wines.

Fortified wine is the kind of beverage you wouldn't choose to go with dinner. As a dessert or aperitif, you should instead take your time sipping and savouring them. These are robust, rather sweet wines that can also be quite alcoholic despite their smoothness on the mouth.

Apart from Portuguese fortified wines, some of the most well-known wines in the world that fall under this category are Commandaria from Greece, Jerez (also known as sherry in English) from Southern Spain, Marsala from Italy, or vermouth from various origins, which is made of fortified wine aromatised with botanicals like herbs and spices.


How Portuguese Fortified Wines Were Developed

The development of fortified wines is quite interesting. Fortified wines were not a direct invention per se, like many other meals and beverages throughout history, but rather a development brought about by sheer necessity.

Stack of Port Wine barrel in a wine cellar

Still, wines began receiving more alcohol from traders to preserve them on lengthy boat excursions. Several southern European nations, particularly Portugal, began exporting their wines to Europe and other continents as early as the 16th century. The quality of the wines was significantly impacted by the lengthy and turbulent voyages made possible by sailing vessels, which frequently arrived at their destination in less-than-ideal conditions.

Wines were transported in barrels rather than bottles because refrigeration wasn't an option. Since barrels are less airtight than bottles, wine tends to oxidise and turn sour. Spirits were added as a workaround since their higher alcohol content would prevent more spoiling.

Not everyone in the wine industry was pleased when this method of fortifying wines was developed since some people viewed it suspiciously as a tool to degrade subpar wines. However, the truth is that over time, this led to less waste, content customers, and the creation of a style of wine that is now highly regarded worldwide.


Top 10 Best Portuguese Fortified Wines

When it comes to Portuguese fortified wines, you have several options to choose from, but this list that we have compiled for you is the best of the best-fortified wines you’ll surely enjoy, depending on your specific occasion.


1. Colheita

Colheita is a Tawny port made from grapes from a single crop. Although most producers choose a lengthier barrel maturation period and decide to bottle it when the wine is ready and deemed adequate quality, they must be aged for a minimum of seven years.

The wine will mellow out and acquire complex aromas and flavours reminiscent of dried fruits, spices, nuts, and citrus fruits as it ages in wood. Colheita is a high-quality, typically affordable fashion. Around 1% of the port production is earmarked for Colheita, making it relatively uncommon.


2. Late Bottled Vintage Port

It takes a year to manufacture a late-bottled vintage port, bottled four to six years later. This variety of port is less expensive than Vintage port because of the slightly longer maturing period, and it can be drunk right away, though it can also be aged in bottles.

Unlike the more vibrant current variants filtered before bottling, traditional styles are not filtered and tend to be more structured. This filtered LBV is the most typical form, notwithstanding some purists' claims that filtration removes some of the essential characteristics.


3. Madeira

This fortified wine made in the volcanic Madeira Islands is available from dry wines that are generally given as an aperitif to those high on the sweet scale traditionally consumed with desserts. The red Tinta Negra Mole vine, from which all of the distinct Madeira types, from dry to sweet, can be produced, accounts for about 85% of the wine's production.

The names of the other four key styles are derived from the main white grape variety used in the blend. These are, in order: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia, from driest to tastiest. Madeira is renowned for its distinctive winemaking method of heating the wine, resulting in outstanding longevity.


4. Port

Originating in the Duoro Valley, the port is a fortified wine. It is made from various grape varieties, but the red port is primarily made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesca, and Tinta  Cão. In contrast, the white port is made mainly from Viozinho, Rabigato, Arinto, Cedega, and Gouveio.

Following fermentation, the wine is brandied-fortified and typically aged in wood barrels. After mixing, the wine can continue to age in a bottle or a barrel, depending on the type. The youthful and fresh Ruby, the earthy Late-Bottled Vintage, and the rich and silky Tawnies are the most popular port varieties, while Vintage ports are the most prestigious.


5. Ruby Port

The most prevalent and recent style of fortified port wines is ruby. Ruby ports, which are typically matured for three years in steel or concrete tanks and are made from a variety of red grapes, are regarded as an approachable entry point to more sophisticated port wines.

These fresh wines typically have a deep ruby colour, as their name suggests. Along with modest tannins, light and fruity tastes and aromas are also present. Ruby port can be served over ice, slightly chilled, or at room temperature. Blue cheese and cherry or chocolate-based desserts often go well with them.


6. Sercial

Sercial is a white grape variety from Portugal that is most famous for being used to make dry Madeira wines. For this specific type of Madeira wine, the term Sercial is also used. Although its origin is yet unknown, the varietal is probably a native Portuguese grape.

Sercial is challenging to grow, and Madeira has only a few plantings. Sercial's extreme acidity is its primary attribute. The wines are slightly harsh while young, but they age beautifully. They are zesty, crisp, and fragrant.

Additionally, Sercial continues to have a lively and brilliant distinctive aroma as they age.


7. Single Quinta Vintage Port

Single Quinta Vintage sometimes referred to as Vintage port's little brother is a style of port produced from grapes from a single harvest from a single estate (quinta). They are made in the same manner as Vintage port—without filtering and for a maximum of three years—typically in years where the wine is not deemed high-quality enough to be designated Vintage.

Although Single Quinta wines often develop quickly and are less complex than traditional Vintage ports, they are of the highest grade. They typically have ripe fruit flavours that are luscious, smooth, robust, and well-balanced. Although they are generally ready to drink after ten years, single Quinta wines have exceptional age potential, and some can benefit from more time in the cellar.


8. Tawny Port

Tawny is a fortified port variation typically matured in oak for about seven years (Reserva), though vintages can be as old as 10, twenty, and even over forty years. These fortified red wines are acclaimed for their rich and silky texture and unique aromatic profile.

Tawny ports, typically amber and frequently sweet, exhibit a variety of smells, most notably a nutty blend of toffee and caramel, coffee, vanilla, dates, ripe red and dark fruit, figs, or prunes. Tawny is the ideal complement to a variety of desserts, especially those made with nuts, fruit, chocolate, or eggs, due to its distinctive taste that varies depending on the age of the wine.


9. Vintage Port

The best grapes from a single year's crop create the vintage port. It is regarded as the most valued and premium port style. Only vintage is produced when port houses determine that the wine is of a high enough calibre.

Only 2% of all port is produced as vintages, but in the best years, every port house will declare a vintage. After receiving approval from Portugal's Port Wine Institute, the decision to proclaim a Vintage can be taken. Vintages are not filtered before bottled and are barrel-aged for two to three years.


10. White Port

White port is a fortified wine created in the same way as a red port, only with white grapes instead of red. Brandy is added during the fermentation process. The mix often consists of indigenous grapes like Viosinho, Malvasia Fina, Códega, and Rabigato and is available as both a dry and sweet wine.

White port is often meant to be consumed early, but oak-aged varieties are also popular. Most examples will contain some excess sugar. They tend to be lighter than red types, but their final character will depend on vinification. Citrus and stone fruit flavours are present in the bouquet, along with nutty undertones typically present in golden, oak-aged varietals.

What is the Most Famous Portuguese Fortified Wine?

Port is the most renowned fortified wine in Portugal and among the most well-liked fortified wines worldwide. Many people like the complexity and sweetness of this drink, which is frequently served as an appetiser or, even more regularly, as a dessert wine.


What Makes Fortified Wine Unique?

Distilled alcohol, like brandy, is added to wine to make it fortified, making it unique compared to other classifications of wine. Fortified wine is distinguished from conventional kinds by its distinctive flavour, aroma, and excellent alcohol content.


How Long Does Fortified Wine Last?

Fortified wines can keep for 28 days when corked and stored in a cold, dark area. Because brandy is added, fortified wines like Port and Muscat have an unusually extended shelf life. Although these wines look great on the shelf, exposure to light and heat will cause them to lose their flavour more quickly.


How Should I Store Fortified Wine?

Fortified wines should be kept upright and in a dim environment. Unopened, each of these wines will keep for many years. Old Vintage Ports under cork are the exception to the rule and should be stored horizontally. However, doing so may result in some leaking and probable mould development under the cap.


Interested in more Portuguese Wine? Follow the links below to explore other types.

Portuguese White Wine

Portuguese Red Wine

Back to blog