What are fortified wines?
Fortified wines are beautiful but often misunderstood creatures.
So what exactly is a fortified wine? Well it’s a wine made with an addition of alcohol. It all starts off much the same way as a table or dessert wine until alcohol is added in the form of grape or brandy spirit . This increase in alcohol stops the natural fermentation and the timing of this addition will determine
the residual sweetness of the wine. If the spirit is added early, the wine will be sweeter and if left until later it will be a drier. The final alcohol of fortified wines varies anywhere from 16% to 22% depending upon the style and the age of the wine.
There are as many different styles of fortified wines as there are occasions to enjoy them. From aperitifs to desserts, everyday to special celebrations, young or old, sweet or dry, there’s a fortified wine for just about everything. Today though I thought we would focus on Port, or port style wines. In Australia these wines are now referred to as either white or red fortified wines, as the term “Port” now legally belongs only to wines produced from a particular region in Portugal. This legal protection works the same way for Champagne, which must be grown and made within that region in France, with the equivalent Australian styles being called sparkling wines.
Red Fortified wines can be further described as Vintage, Ruby or Tawny. Vintage Fortifieds are from a single year and are generally exceptional quality. They are designed to age in the bottle and enjoy in many years to come.
Ruby and Tawny ports can be a blend of many vintages with the age of the wine setting these two styles apart. Ruby’s are younger, fresher, fruit driven style fortifieds. They are ruby red in colour and once bottled are meant to be enjoyed young and fresh without cellaring.
Tawny’s are older wines, having being aged in barrels for many years. The aging causes the colours to fade from ruby red to more of a brown colour. Age and blending gives Tawny’s their complexity and flavour concentration. And as with a Ruby style, once bottled they are ready to be enjoyed without the need for further cellaring.
Our own red fortified wine, Ruby Slipper, is a young blend of Margaret River Shiraz and Tempranillo. It is a versatile fortified in that you can sip it slowly as is, chill it in the fridge in summer, or even pop a dash into your favourite bubbly to create sparkling red. Every year we stash some Ruby Slipper away in our ex cognac barrels, which one day will become our Tawny Fortified, a complex and luscious blend of aged wine.
While not as common as red fortified wines, white fortifieds are equally delicious. They can be either a sweet dessert style or a dry aperitif style. White Port is very popular in Portugal as an aperitif and leans towards the drier side. Our own white fortified wine, the Glass Slipper, has been made in this style using Margaret River Chardonnay and a touch of Semillon. Like their red companions, white fortifieds can be enjoyed at room temperature, in cocktails, or chilled as a refreshing summer beverage.