About Fortified Wine

About Fortified Wine
Fortified wines, those inevitable after-dinner elixirs, have been a part of the American wine industry since its inception. The early American taste for fortified wines was well documented, as the signing of the Declaration of Independence was toasted with a round of Madeira. It, along with port and sherry, was the preferred drink of the Eastern aristocracy well into our own century. That the native industry should strive to compete for this market was only natural.

As in much of the wine-producing New World, vintners took a run at sherry (and do to this day), but the results on the whole pale, often quite literally, when compared to the Spanish original. Port, however, has fared beter. While the climate and soil of Jerez has not been duplicated elsewhere, the broiling heat and winemaking practices of the Douro have proven much easier to replicate--perhaps nowhere more so than in California's Amador County and San Joaquin Valley.

Port-style wines are being made beyond California. As might be expected, a certain measure of heat helps; the most successful examples have come from warm states such as Missouri. As the saying goes, a little residual sugar can cover a multitude of sins, but the Missouri ports of producers such as Stone Hill and Mount Pleasant truly stand on their own, and have proven as consistently competent as many California versions.

Fortified refers to wines that have additional alcohol as the result of neutral spirits being added. The most common fortified wines are port and sherry, in which the alcoholic level is between 17% to 20%, higher than a standard table wine of about 13% -14.5%

Additional alcohol technically means these wines can age longer, but that period also depends on the type of wine produced, as some ports and sherries are rather light and need to be enjoyed within a few years of their release.

Given the higher percentage of alcohol, pairing these wines can be tricky, as they could overwhelm milder dishes. For port, rich cheeses, especially blue, are fine, as are walnuts. For a dry sherry, a tomato or cream soup would be an excellent match, while for a sweeter sherry, an almond tart or a simple pound cake with honey would be an excellent match. Otherwise, enjoy these wines on their own.

Top Picks for Fortified Wine

Anthony Lee’s NV Raspberry Spirit Fortified Wine Maine
93 points
Indigo color. Aromas and flavors of mixed berry sauce on buttered pancakes and rocky road ice cream with an tangy, sweet medium-to-full body and an interesting, long finish with accents of black raspberry jam and nougat with a suggestion of oak flavor. A pure and decadent berry forward fortified wine with great flavor and structure.
Samson Estates NV Framboise Raspberry Dessert Wine Puget Sound
91 points
Brown brick red color. Aromas and flavors of fresh crushed and baked raspberries and hint of cacao nib with an bright, sweet full body and a refreshing, medium-long finish evoking suggestions of honeyed dried berries and dates, nuts, and hint of peppery brandy with fine, chewy, fruit tannins. A rather serious, concentrated and liqueur-like raspberry wine that will be great in kirs.
DH Lescombes NV  Ratafia
90 points
Pale golden yellow color. Aromas of orange blossom, ripe canary melon, lychee, jasmine, and asian pear with a velvety, crisp, moderately sweet light-to-medium body and a smooth, interesting, medium-length sugared peach, elderflower, and fruit salad finish with no oak flavor. A rich and unctuous dessert offering with bold fruit and floral aromas; a luxurious choice for Moscato lovers.
St. Clair Winery NV Special Reserve Kiva New Mexico
90 points
Dark amber color. Aromas and flavors of peach liqueur, rich caramel, bananas foster, hazelnut confection, and pumpkin pie with pecans with a satiny, vibrant, sweet medium body and a warming, interesting, medium-length finish with elements of persimmon with moderate oak flavor. A distinctively nutty and warming fortified wine with a top note of vibrant peach aromas.
Samson Estates NV BLU Blueberry Dessert Wine Puget Sound
90 points
Deep purple color. Aromas and flavors of spicy blueberry chutney and cinnamon candy with a bright, moderately sweet medium body and an intriguing, medium-long finish that shows accents of plum custard tart and brown spice tea with well-integrated, dusty tannins. A plush, spicy dessert wine with lots of purity and personality.
Narmada Winery 2009 Allure Port-Style Wine Virginia
88 points
Dark brown brick red color. Aromas and flavors of canelé pastry, cinnamon tart, cocoa powder, cola, green pepper, and rum macerated strawberry with a round, vibrant, sweet medium body and a smooth, intriguing, medium-long finish with notes of Nutella. A nicely structured fortified wine; its distinctive character will shine with blue cheeses.
Riebeek Cellars NV Cape Ruby Touriga Nacional
86 points
Black ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raisins, toffee-coated nuts, caramel buttercream, licorice, and chocolate sponge with a satiny, crisp, very sweet medium body and a warming, engaging, medium-length finish that shows elements of dried strawberry with moderate oak flavor. A decadent after-dinner wine with notes of ripe fruit and chocolate.
Bordeleau 2008 Vintage Red Fortified Wine Maryland
86 points
Brown brick red color. Aromas and flavors of root beer, belgian waffle, vanilla gelato, toasted hazelnut, and chocolate-dipped candied orange peel with a velvety, bright, sweet medium body and a smooth, crisp finish with moderate oak flavor. A sweet and smooth after-dinner wine that offers rich flavors and velvety texture.
Riebeek Cellars NV Cape Ruby Fortified Wine Swartland
86 points
Black ruby color. Aromas and flavors of grilled berries and citrus, honey charred nuts, and flint with an crisp, moderately sweet medium body and an interesting, medium-long finish with notes of blackberries, lime Pez candy, and nut skin with a suggestion of oak flavor. An intriguing, smoky fortified wine that will make a clever cocktail modifier.
One Nation NV Blue American
84 points
Garnet color. Aromas and flavors of applied strawberry lip balm, melon rind and aloe, cherry yogurt, and nougat with a crisp, fruity sweet light-to-medium body and a perplexing, medium-length finish with impressions of honeyed citrus peel, fig, and fallen fruit with no oak flavor. A curious, wild and wooly fortified wine that will be best with artisan cheeses.
84 points $14.99