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What Is A Fortified Wine?

A full guide of types of fortified wines you might enjoy before or after dinner

If you consider yourself a wine lover, you’ve likely had fortified wine at least once. This type of wine can be consumed as aperitifs, digestives, and even dessert wines, which may leave you wondering, “what is a fortified wine?”

Continue reading to learn the basics of fortified wine, from its fermentation process to types of most known fortified wine types.

What Is Fortified Wine Exactly?

Fortified wine is a wine combined with a distilled spirit (in many cases, this is grape brandy). Fortifying wine with distilled spirits creates a new flavor and raises the alcohol content. Most fortified wines are between 17 and 20 percent ABV.

Initially, wine was fortified as a way to preserve it. Many ships were transporting wine during long voyages. On these trips, the wine often turned into vinegar since there was a lack of fridges. By fortifying the wine, sailors could get it safely from place to place without spoilage.

There are two primary types of fortified wine, sweet fortified wine and dry fortified wine. However, many of the wines sit in between the two extremes. The sweetness or dryness depends on when the distilled spirit is added to the base wine. Fortified wine can vary in color from light yellow to dark red.

Generally, fortified wines are classified based on their country of origin. For example, sherry must be produced in Jerez, Spain.

How Is Fortified Wine Made?

During (or after) the fermentation process, a neutral grape spirit, grape brandy, or liquor that can fortify the wine is added. Timing is the main factor in determining whether you end up with a drier or sweeter fortified wine. For example, fortifying liquor added to the wine during fermentation removes the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind. In this case, you’ll end up with a sweet wine or dessert wine.

However, if the fortifying spirit is added after fermentation (when there is no residual sugar), you’ll have a dry fortified wine.

10 Types Of Fortified Wines

Since there are many fortified wines, there is truly something for every wine drinker!


Two types of vermouth are available – dry and sweet. Each vermouth type presents different flavor notes. Sweet vermouth typically tastes like vanilla, caramel, and dark fruit. Dry vermouth is more herby and spice-rich, with typical notes including cardamom, cinnamon, and marjoram.

Marsala Wine

Marsala is an Italian fortified wine that has many styles available. The types of marsala are broken into the sweetness level and how long it needs to age. Expect a complex taste from marsala wine, with dried fruit, honey, and tobacco notes. Some varieties of marsala include:

  • Seco (only 40g of residual sugar content)
  • Sweet (100g+ residual sugar)
  • Superiore (must be aged at least two years)
  • Soleras Riserva (must be aged at least ten years)

Port Wine

This wine comes from northern Portugal and is one of the most well-known fortified wines. Generally, this type of red wine is one of the sweet wines. However, you will also find port wine as white, dry, or semi-dry wine.


Sherry wines are made in Spain, specifically from three different Andalusian towns. These wines are created from white grapes. It is available as a sweet or dry wine. Dry sherry is known for having a higher alcohol content than some of the other fortified wines.

Madeira Wine

This option is another Portuguese fortified wine. Unlike port, it is available as a dry or sweet wine. Sweet Madeira wine is great as a dessert wine, while dry options pair well with heavier meals, including cheese and red meat.


This French fortified wine typically includes a unique tropical fruit taste. You may also recognize it as an ingredient in other fortified wines, like marsala and sherry.

Commandaria Wine

Commandaria is made on the island of Cyprus and is considered the oldest named wine worldwide. It can only be made within 14 towns on the island, making it an exciting option for wine lovers. It’s fruity, sweet, and acidic, with flavor notes of bergamot, dried figs, and toffee.

Vins Doux Naturels

This type of French fortified wine is made with a neutral grape spirit. The fortifying spirits are added part-way through fermentation, so they end up as sweet wines.

Moscatel De Setubal

Moscatel de Setubal is a decadent, honeyed dessert wine from Portugal. It also works well as an aperitif. This wine is an excellent pairing for cheesy dishes or desserts with caramel.

Fortify Wine Serving Recommendations

It’s important to serve fortified wine in smaller glasses primarily because of the higher alcohol content. They also have bold flavors, so they are intended to be sipped. In general, fortified wines are best when served chilled. Aim to get a bottle of fortified wine to around 50F before serving it. 

If you’re eating spicy food or enjoying fortified wine with a sweet dessert, chill it to a lower temperature for the best outcome.

Storing Fortified Wines

Unlike standard wines, which are usually only good for about 3-5 days after opening, fortified wines can last in the fridge for over a week. Depending on the type of fortified wine you’ve opened, you may find it still good to drink after a few weeks or even a month.

A general rule of thumb when storing these types of wines, the sweeter the wine, the longer it will last in the fridge. Always cork the wine bottle when storing it, so it does not oxidize.

Delicious Food Pairings & Cocktail Ideas

Some fortified wines are best with salty snacks, while others make a great ingredient in cocktails.

Generally, dry options pair well with charcuterie boards covered in meats, cheese, and nuts. Sweet fortified wine is best with a chocolate-centric dessert.

If you’d prefer a cocktail, reach for sherry or vermouth wines. Here are a few cocktail ideas for fortified wines.

Porto Tonico

This popular Portuguese drink is simple yet flavorful. All you need is tonic water, white port, and ice cubes. Add three ounces tonic to 1.5 ounces white port and serve with ice.

Gibson Martini

This martini is a twist on the classic drink. Mix 2.5 ounces of gin with half an ounce of dry vermouth. Then, top it with a cocktail onion.

Possible Benefits Of Fortified Wines

Like red wines, fortified wines have a high level of antioxidants, potentially protecting you against chronic diseases. It may also help with heart health, as there is a potential connection between drinking wine and an increase in “good” cholesterol.

Red wine is more likely to have these potential benefits since it is processed with grape skins. As a note, it is best to consume fortified wine in moderation, as wine in excess can cause negative health effects.

Final Notes

If you have yet to try fortified wine, you can use the above information to find an ideal option for your palate. There’s no need to worry about consuming fortified wine quickly, especially since it has a long storage life when refrigerated and corked. So, you can select a few options and enjoy experimenting with pairings and cocktail recipes. 

Next time you want to try a new wine, consider one of the above-fortified options to liven up a gathering.

Related FAQs

What’s The Difference Between A Fortified Wine And A Liqueur?

As mentioned above in our review, a fortified wine has a distilled spirit added to it while it is fermenting. In contrast, a liqueur is a neutral spirit (like vodka) soaked with herbs, fruits, and sugar. It typically has a 15% or higher alcohol content.

What Is The Difference Between Wine And Fortified Wine?

A standard wine is made from grape juice which is fermented. During fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugar, turning it into alcohol. Most regular wines have between 11% and 13% ABV. Fortified wine takes it a step further by adding distilled spirits as it is fermenting. This addition to the wine creates a higher ABV percentage and alters the flavor (as mentioned above).

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