Here is a hypothetical problem.
You are a merchant with several crates of fine wine that need to be transported across the world. Assume you do not have access to refrigerators— airtight wine bottles (only wine casks), and that air mail does not exist. If the journey takes too long, the alcohol will turn into vinegar, resulting in great losses.
What do you do?
Someone once answered that question by adding some distilled spirit to it, and the fortified wine was born. Conceived in a time of necessity, fortified wines have since seen waves of popularity, and they are currently on the upsurge. This article covers what fortified wines are, discusses some of the most popular types, and why there is once again considerable hype around a classic wine.
What is this Fortified Wine?
Fortified wine is fermented wine that has been mixed with a distilled spirit, either during or after the completion of fermentation. Brandy is the spirit of choice when it comes to fortified wines, but any neutral spirit can be used as an alternative. Besides having the advantage of preventing spoilage, adding spirits increase the alcohol content of the wine as well, potentially even doubling it. For long, many held a misconception that the increased alcohol content of fortified wines was due to distilling the wine, but it was not clear to what led to such an assumption. Traditional wine contains between 10-15% alcohol, while fortified wines possess around 20%.
One key factor separating fortified wines is the stage at which the distilled spirit is added to the fermented grapes. Adding the spirit stops the process of conversion of natural sugars inside grapes into alcohol. If the brandy is mixed before fermentation is complete, the result will be a sweet fortified wine. On the other hand, if one waits until fermentation is done, the fortified wine will be dry. There is also a half-sweet, half-dry fortified wine that is produced, but the taste differs significantly between producers.
5 Best Fortified Wines
The average fortified wine bottle will cost you around $15-30 USD. The best pick partly depends on whether you intend to use the drink for consumption or cooking. Either way, there are five top choices when it comes to fortified wines, both sweet and dry, red and white. Have a read here…
Perhaps the most popular entry on this list, along with the next one, Port is a sweet red wine that originates in Douro Valley, Portugal. However, it is also available in white, and dry or half-dry varieties. Fortified wine generally make for versatile aperitifs as well as dessert drinks. It is better that the Port be consumed as the latter, especially with some blue cheese. For cooking, Port’s sweetness combines well with chocolate, making it a good addition for desserts, as well as heavier meats like beef and lamb.
We found this port wine that is said to pair perfectly with dessert. With notes of chocolate an raspberry, we can see why! We think we’re going to order one for the team here soon.
Unlike Port, Sherry is traditionally a dry wine that comes from Spain. It is also more appropriate as an aperitif to be consumed before meals. Sherry is produced using a special process called ‘solera’. It’s mechanism is quite complex, but the intended goal is to ensure that the end product is a mixture of different ages. Sherry is quite versatile in that it is produced using a wide variety of grapes to suit different palates. This also ensures that it can be used to cook many different dishes, such as poultry, fish, desserts, sauces, etc.
Try incorporating this sherry wine next time you’re in the kitchen!
Born in Portugal, Madeira tastes quite like sherry, both dry and sweet, although sweet Madeira usually has even more sugar. To produce this wine, brandy is added at several stages of fermentation to induce variety in flavors. Dry fortified wines generally make for better aperitifs, while sweet wines make for good dessert wines. Madeira is an exotic choice for both, and both can be taken at either stage of the meal! Besides drinking, Madeira can also be used to make several beef and chicken dishes, if desired.
Try these smaller wine glasses for dessert! They’re simple yet timeless and are sure to impress your guests.
This wine from Sicily is usually produced by adding brandy after fermentation has ended. Sweetened Marsala is generally produced by adding artificial sweeteners rather than introducing the brandy sooner. This type of wine is more commonly used for cooking rather than other entries on this list, and it is used for both chicken and desserts.
Ready to get cooking? Here’s a perfect Marsala cooking wine from Holland House.
Vermouth is sometimes classified as an ‘aromatized wine’ since it contains some botanicals, such as fruits, florals, herbs, and spices, in addition to brandy. Some historians believe that the fortified wine produced by ancient humans is similar to the modern Vermouth. But while they were made with cocoa, gentian root, and wormwood earlier, they are made using herbs like quinine today. Vermouth is mainly used in making martinis and for cooking.
What Wine Will You Try Now?
These five prominent fortified wines are merely broad categories for several subtypes within each group. While fortified wines were created more due to necessity rather than choice, their versatility as accompaniments at different stages of the meal, and as a cooking ingredient are large reasons why they are becoming popular once again. While many associate fortified wines as belonging to their grandparents’ generation, these wines are seeing a resurgence today due to the sheer variety of wines one can purchase. Combine all these factors with recent research on the potential health benefits of moderate wine drinking, and one simply does not need any more incentive to indulge themselves in these fine wines!
We sure learned something new today— that all of these variations of fortified wines can be used to cook with! Which of these fortified wines is your favorite to cook with? Drop a comment down below and help inspire us.
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