Wine Words Demystified: Fortified

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is Fortified...

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A wine, such as Sherry or Port, that has had its ALCOHOL content increased by the addition of distilled grape spirits (clear brandy).  Most fortified wines contain 16 to 20 percent ALCOHOL BY VOLUME. 

The original reason for fortifying wine back in the day was to preserve it for long voyages by ship (alcohol is a natural antiseptic).  Even though the additional alcohol is no longer needed to act as a preservative, fortification continues because the process can add distinct flavors to the finished product.

Fortified wines run the gamut from dry to tooth-achingly sweet.  Whether a fortified wine turns out dry, or sweet depends on whether the distilled grape spirits are added before, during, or after the fermentation process.  If it is added before the fermentation process is  the alcohol in the distilled beverage kills yeast and leaves residual sugar behind, thereby resulting in the finished product having both a higher alcohol level and being sweeter.   Such is the case with Port.

On the other hand, if the distilled grape spirit is added during fermentation, yeast cells continue to convert sugar to alcohol until the it reaches an alcohol level 16%-18%.  At that point the alcohol become toxic to yeast and kills it.  If the fermentation is allowed to complete the resulting wine will be low in sugar and consider dry.  Such is the case with certain style of Sherry.

A glass of amontillado sherry, with olives
A glass of amontillado sherry, with olives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  1. I love fortified wine. My favorite is Madeira followed by port and sherry.

    1. I’m a huge fan of fortified wines. I’ve wanted to recommend some with the #SundaySuppers,but have only recommended some Ports – mostly because Madeira and Sherry can be tough to find…Thanks for the comment!

  2. Raul says:

    Neat and simple explanation! I prefer port over sherry here

    1. Thanks for the comments and dropping by Raul! Just popped over to your FB page and liked it. Very cool what you’re doing!

  3. Raul says:

    Nice and sime explanation!

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