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

DH Lescombes NV  Ratafia
90 points
$28
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
$28
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.
Jessie Creek 2019 Ruby Redhead Dessert Wine New Jersey
89 points
$25
Deep purple color. Aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries, dried apricots, creamy hazelnut spread, and brown sugar on oats with a round, lively, fruity medium body and a warming, intriguing, medium-long finish with notes of dark chocolate chips and cherry pie with moderate oak flavor. An easy-drinking and silky fortified wine with ripe berry flavors.
Quady NV Starboard Batch 88 Madera County
89 points
$25
Deep purple color. Aromas and flavors of saddle leather, floral spiced berries, orange agave marmalade, and peanut and pumpkin seed brittle with a satiny, vibrant, moderately sweet medium-to-full body and a peppery, engaging, medium-long finish with notes of crystallized ginger, sassafras, cherry cola, and pink pepper. A vibrant young fortified wine that will be very versatile; try on ice cream or in cocktails.
Riebeek Cellars NV Cape Ruby Touriga Nacional
86 points
$20
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.
Stone Hill 2015 Port Hermann
85 points
$35
Brown brick red color. Aromas of fragrant cigars, patent leather, cinnamon-dusted raisins, kalamata olive, artichoke hearts, and oregano with a slightly chewy, vibrant, sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, captivating, medium-long candied cherry, licorice, grapefruit zest, and black tea finish with moderate oak flavor. A robust and generous Fortified Wine from Missouri; try cellaring.
VARA NV New Mexico Rose Wine New Mexico
82 points
$32
Silvery pink color. Aromas of hibiscus tisane and underripe strawberry with a soft, bright, dry light body and a warming, short-lived underripe apricot and cherry stone finish with no oak flavor. A high octane wine for sangrias.