If you’re just getting into fortified wines, you’re in the right place! These wines have a storied place in wine history and in your glass!
There are 10 well-known types of fortified wines: Sherry, Port, Madeira, Vin Doux Naturel, Vermouth, Marsala, Commandaria, Pineau des Charentes, Malaga, and Rutherglen Muscat. Fortified wines come in two styles: sweet or dry. Comparing fortified wines can help you decide what types you enjoy.
Here’s what makes wines fortified, and a list of the types of fortified wines you may come across.
What Are Fortified Wines?
If a wine is fortified, it means that the winemaker added distilled spirit to the wine during the winemaking process. This can include aguardiente, brandy, or cognac.
What Are the Types of Fortified Wine?
Check out this list of the different types of fortified wines made around the world.
Fortified Wine #1: Sherry
Sherry is a dry or sweet fortified wine from Spain. Grape spirit is added after the wine’s fermented to dryness. Sweet styles are back-sweetened (sugar or grape juice is added back to the wine after it’s fermented to dryness). Here are 5 famous types of Sherry wine:
- Fino: A dry, pale-colored sherry from Spain that is aged under a layer of yeast called “flor.”
- Amontillado: A sherry from Spain that starts off as a Fino but is later exposed to oxygen, giving it a darker color and nutty flavor.
- Oloroso: A dark, full-bodied sherry from Spain that is aged exposed to oxygen, giving it nutty walnut flavors.
- Cream: A sweet sherry.
- Pedro Ximénez: A sweet sherry made fromPedro Ximénez grapes that were sun-dried to concentrate sugars and flavors (often served over ice cream).
Helpful Tip: Sherry is a whole different level of complicated when it comes to winemaking. Here’s a helpful overview of Sherry wine styles that explains how these unique wines are crafted.
Fortified Wine #2: Port
Port is a sweet fortified wine from Portugal. Grape spirit gets added after the wine has fermented to 5%-7% alcohol. The alcohol will kill the yeast, leaving sweet, unfermented grape juice behind making your Port wine sweet. Port must be 19%-22% alcohol by volume.
Helpful Tip: Port is always sweet. It’s usually red, but you can find white and rose ports, too.
Check out this post on how they make Port wines … grapes + magic! (Okay, it’s grapes + alcohol but that equals magic!
Fortified Wine #3: Madeira
This is a fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira. Similar to Port wine, Madeira wines start the fermentation process then spirit gets added, stopping the fermentation process and leaving behind a sweet fortified wine.
Madeira can come in sweet or dry styles, but even the dry styles will taste sweet.
They’re drier in comparison to the sweetest styles.
Fortified Wine #4: Vin Doux Naturel
Vin Doux Naturel (VDN): Unlike Port and Madeira, these sweet French fortified wines start fermentation, but the winemaker stops fermentation very early by adding spirit, leaving behind a significant amount of grape juice. They’re fortified to 15% alcohol by volume, making them viscous. Look for these two famous VDN wines:
- Banyuls: A sweet, fortified, VDN wine from the Roussillon region of France that is made from Grenache grapes.
- Muscat de Beaumes de Venise: A sweet, fortified VDN wine from the Rhône Valley region of France that is made from Muscat grapes.
Curious about Vin Doux Naturel? I put together this post that goes into what VDN wines are and how to buy a VDN wine that you’ll love.
Fortified Wine #5: Vermouth
Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine most commonly used as a cocktail ingredient. Made from white grapes including Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto, Trebbiano, and Clairette Blanche, Vermouth starts as a low-alcohol white wine. Producers fortify the base wine and add botanicals then age the wine before release.
Fortified Wine #6: Marsala
Crafted on the Italian island of Sicily, Marsala is a fortified wine that comes in dry and sweet styles. Marsala’s commonly associated with cooking wine, but pairs beautifully with almonds, goat cheese, smoked white meat, and cake.
Fortified Wine #7: Commandaria
Commandaria is a dark, sweet wine that can only be made on the island of Cyprus. It can, but doesn’t have to be, fortified up to 20% alcohol by volume. It can be made from Mavro (red grapes) or Xynisteri (white grapes).
Fun Wine Fact: Commandaria is actually the world’s oldest named wine. If you’re drinking Commandaria, you’re drinking history!
Fortified Wine #8: Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes is a vin de liqueur, or fortified wine, made in the Cognac region of France. It’s made by adding Cognac to grape juice that’s just about to ferment. The resulting wine is a blend of grape juice and young spirit. Many artisanal examples expressed nuanced fruit and spirit flavors.
Fortified Wine #9: Malaga
A sweet fortified wine from Malaga, Spain, Malaga wine is crafted from Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes. These wines are similar in style to France’s VDN wines, and go by the name Vinos Naturalmente Dulces.
Helpful Tip: Check out this fantastic post on Wine Tourism Spain that covers sweet Malaga wines in depth. (external link)
Fortified Wine #10: Rutherglen Muscat
A less well-known fortified wine from Australia, of all places, still has a storied history in fortified winemaking. Made from the brown Muscat grape, Rutherglen Muscat goes through a similar winemaking process as VDN wines with spirit added early on during fermentation. This leaves behind a sweet, spirity liquor that’s aged in large warehouses.
Rutherglen Muscats come in various styles from younger ones with brighter fruits, to wines that have undergone extended aging with dried floral and raisin notes.
How to Buy Fortified Wines
While Port, Sherry, and Madeira are classic, well-known examples of fortified wine that you’ll be able to find at almost any wine shop, other types of fortified wines on this list like VDN, Rutherglen Muscat, and Malaga are only sold at specialty shops.
Look for them online and make it a habit of checking out the fortified wine section whenever you go to boutique wine shops.
It’s worth buying a bottle of lesser-known fortified wines whenever you discover them because they are so unique.
Final Thoughts – Experimenting with Types of Fortified Wines
The wide range of fortified wine styles means that you’ll need to experiment by tasting different styles. The best way to learn about wines is through side-by-side comparisons.
If you live in a large city, you may find fortified wine tastings at wine bars, but these are uncommon. Fortified wine just isn’t popular at the moment.
Instead, host a fortified wine tasting at your house.
Here’s a fun fortified wine tasting lineup you can easily put together:
- 1 bottle of Fino Sherry
- 1 bottle of Vin Doux Naturel (pick a Banyuls or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise)
- 1 bottle of Ruby Port
You should be able to find the Fino and Ruby Port easily. You may need to look for the VDN. Taste the wines in this order.
Ask the following questions:
- What do you smell in each wine?
- What do you taste in each wine?
- Which wine is sweetest?
- Which wine is fruitiest?
- Which wine has the most burn (alcohol)?
Fortified wines don’t often get the attention and time they deserve, but you can do your part by finding the fortified wines that you love!
Thirsty for More?
Here’s an in-depth post on the difference between fortified and unfortified wines, that goes into more of the winemaking behind these two styles.
You may be interested in this post on how to pick out a good fortified wine.
And if you’re curious about more fortified wines, check out this post on the difference between Sherry and Port wines.