Fortified Wines

Overview;   The practice of fortifying wine took off in the 16th and 17th centuries with the increase of long sea voyages around the glob e. Many of the normal wines transported from Europe spoiled during the rigorous journey during which they were not only subjected to being shaken about, but also to huge temperature changes. Wine makers found that adding certain amounts of brandy protected and stabilized the wines. It also gave them a more robust flavour as well as increasing the alcohol content. Fortified wines are generally between 17 and 21 percent alcohol.  

The addition of brandy takes place either before or during the fermentation process, the timing of which makes a difference to the end product. If added before fermentation, the wine has a higher sugar content and is therefore sweet; if added after fermentation a dryer wine is achieved.


Marsala, Port and Sherry, as well as the other fortified wines, are not only good to drink, served either as aperitifs or dessert wines depending on the type, but are also essential kitchen ingredients.  

Madeira is made on the island of the same name off the North African coast near Portugal. This wine evolved during the East India trading routes by ship during the 1600s. Similar to how the Pale Ale beer category began its evolution (IPA - East India Pale Ale, e.g., Bass), Pale Ale had the slightly higher alcohol content and was "hopped" heavier to survive the trip to the East Indies; Madeira had its grape brandy fortification. This wine didn`t only endure the tortuous travel by ship, but improved because of it.

Today Madeira is made in "lodges" specifically designed to recreate the sweltering heat of ship travel. The techniques for exposing the barrels to heat may vary from lodge to lodge - one heating system is the use of an estufa (stove). Another technique is storing the barrels in the attic spaces of the lodges. Not only is the roof absorbing the tropical sun, but the walls have hot-water pipes running through them! This "baking" of the wine results in a honey-sweet caramel aroma. The main things to know about Madeira are the four basic styles. Remember, Madeira is named after the island, not the grape varietals. Luckily, the four styles of Madeira are named after the grapes, so knowing the styles you automatically know the grapes that are in them. Sercial is the palest and driest style of Madeira.

Then comes Verdelho which is slightly sweeter. Bual is sweeter and darker and, finally, Malmsey the sweetest of the four. The first two styles are usually made like sherry where the sugar is almost fully fermented before the brandy is added. The last two styles are closer to the way Port is made by interrupting the fermentation with grape spirit leaving residual sugar in the Madeira. 

View The Cheese and Wines Shops wide range of Madeiras, all available for next day delivery!

click to see moreH&H Sercial, at 10 Years is a top-notch medium dry Madeira made from the Sercial grape.

Marsala Originating in Western Sicily, Italy , Marsala takes its name from the town where it is produced. Although the area had been making fortified wine for a long time, even dating back to Roman times, it was in the late 1700s, that the Englishman John Woodhouse developed the technique used today for making Marsala .


For at least a century, Masala was the equal to Sherry and Madeira. In time though, it was relegated to the kitchen as mere cooking wine. But in 1986, the DOC laws for Marsala were rewritten with much stricter regulations and the wine has now climbed back into respectability.


Today, Marsala comes in three different colors Oro (golden), Ambra (amber), Rubino (ruby) and five types Fine (aged a minimum of one year), Superiore (aged in wood two years), Superiore riserva (aged in wood four years), Vergine (always dry and aged in wood for five years), Vergine stravecchio (aged in wood for at least 10 years).


Marsalas range from dry to sweet, the sweetest called Dolce.


Generally, the dry Marsalas are served apéritif and the sweet ones as dessert wines however it is also a vital ingredient in many  Italian recipes, including  zabaglione and is optional in tiramisu.


As a general rule, choose the sweeter varieties for cooking as they have a richer flavour. Marsala can be substituted with Madeira or sherry.


Port; Port originates from the Douro region in Northern Portugal. It takes its name from Oporto, the town where it was traditionally aged and bottled. Whilst there are many types of port wine, there are basically four categories: in order Vintage, Tawny, Ruby and White with Vintage port being considered the best. Some Vintage ports can be aged for 50 years or more, and are popular gifts for all occasions, from Christening to Anniversary.


Vintage Port Wineries will decide ("declared year") that the harvest in a some particular year (or "vintage") is worthy of producing this port, which is aged for two years in wood from grapes of that harvest year only. It will also continue to mature once bottled. Not only are not all years declared to be vintage years, but not all wineries may decide within a particular year that their wine is a vintage year, and even in a declared year (which may occur two or three times in a decade) perhaps only 10% of the grapes will go into vintage port (with the balance going to wood ports).


So in most years there just is no vintage Port at all!


Vintage Ports get much better with ag e. Generally don't drink them before they've aged fifteen years. Some can keep getting better for a long time after that, upto one-hundred years. Like most good wine, a vintage port shouldn't be left around undrunk once opened.


Single-Quinta Vintage Port. Single-Quinta Vintage Port is true vintage Port--wine from one harvest year bottled unblended after two years in cask. When a shipper "declares a vintage," the vintage Port from that year usually comes from wines produced by grapes from various vineyards (quintas). It is said that no one vineyard has all the characteristics to make the best vintage Port. it needs to be blended with other vineyards to be the most complete and complex win e. However, sometimes a producer's single best vineyard will yield grapes fine enough to warrant bottling on their own, while the rest of the vineyards that would normally contribute to a vintage Port weren't as successful. The producer may then choose to vinify this wine from that single vineyard, or "quinta". This is called "single-quinta vintage Port" and the quinta name will appear on the label. So, whereas a Port labeled "Graham's 1991 Vintage Porto" is a vintage Port from a declared year,"Graham's Malvedos 1988 Vintage Porto" is a single-quinta vintage Port from the Quinta dos Malvedos, the best vineyard that Graham's owns. The one exception to this nomenclature is the Quinta do Noval, which is actually a producer, not a single quinta. (Noval's best vineyard is called Nacional, and its single-quinta Port is the rarest, most expensive, and rehighly rated.


Ruby Port; A dark red, somewhat sweet "full-bodied" wine which has probably been aged in wood for several years.


Tawny Port; Not such a deep color, it is a "smoother," less sweet wine which may have been aged in wood for upto 20 years. The difference between tawny Port and ruby Port is simply the amount of time that the wine spends in the wood cask before it is blended and bottled. As the wine ages, the ruby-red color of the young wine becomes paler and browner. Top tawny Ports from the best producers are just as complex and fine (and expensive)as vintage Port, though they will have a different character. (If you find something labeled tawny Port which seems inexpensive, or shall we say, "cheap?," you may have found something produced by blending "tawny" Port with "white" Port. Needless to say, you'll tell the difference and Port connoisseurs will tell you that they aren't worthy of the name "Port" at all.)


White Port; A sweet white wine made from white grapes grown in the Oporto region of Portugal. As with red Port, fermentation is stopped by adding brandy to the partly fermented win e. Not really like the other(red) Ports, which are usually drunk after a meal, this is usually drunk before a meal.


Most ports are relatively sweet and are served after dinner although some white ports (which are produced the same way as red ports except that they use white grapes) are sometimes left to ferment for a longer period thus producing a drier port suitable to be served as an apéritif.


In cooking, the robust Ruby Port retains its colour well and is therefore an excellent choice with the added bonus that its cheaper than a vintage or Tawny port. As port generally has quite a strong flavour, it should be used with discretion in both sweet and savoury recipes until you are familiar with its us e. 


Sherry Sherry was traditionally made from grapes grown in the Jérez de la Frontera region in Andalusia, Spain although today it is made in other countries too. There are two categories of sherry: Fino and Oloroso. Fino sherry is generally very dry (sometimes mouth-puckeringly so) and often expensiv e. Examples of Fino sherries are Pale Cream, Manzanilla and Amontillado although Pale Cream sherry is sweetened somewhat. Oloroso sherry is more heavily fortified and usually much sweeter than Finos. Examples include Amoroso and Cream Sherry.


Having said that, in Spain Olorosos are usually dry. For drinking, the Fino Amontillados and Manzanillas are best served well chilled as an apéritif and the sweeter Olorosos and Amorosos are best served at room temperature after dinner.


Once again, sherry can be used in both savoury and sweet recipes however on the whole, avoid using the very dry Fino sherries.


See here to view more details on Sherry, and for more information on Sherries at The Cheese and Wine Shop.

Vermouth made in the Piedmont area of northwest Italy is used worldwide as a cocktail or in cocktails. All vermouth is fortified wine with many herbal ingredients based on secret family recipes from long ago. Three types of Vermouth exist: rosso is a sweet red, bianco is a medium-sweet white, and secco is a dry white used in martinis. The main brands are Cinzano and Martini & Rossi.