Fortified Wines: Sherry and Vermouth


In recent posting we've addressed fortified wines including Port, Madeira and Marsala. All these wines are produced by adding either Brandy or neutral grape spirit to wines during the fermentation process or after fermentation is complete.

Without getting too much into the details of distilled spirits, Brandy (derived from the word brandywine, or burnt wine) and grape spirit are produced by heating wine to the point where the alcohol evaporates and is collected separately. Fortified winemakers then use these distilled alcohols to increase the alcohol levels in fermented wines.

While grape spirit is simply neutral-flavored grape alcohol, Brandy takes this grape alcohol one step further by aging it in wooden casks to smooth out the flavor of this otherwise harsh alcohol and give it its unique flavor.

Other popular fortified wines include Sherry and Vermouth.  Sherry, from Spain, is typically fortified with Brandy after fermentation is complete to produce a dry fortified wine. There are sweet styles of Sherry but the finer ones, from Spain, are dry.  The Spanish Sherries are made in multiple styles:

Dry Sherry: Made predominately from the Palomino grape:

  • Fino & Manzanilla - Very light in flavor. Can have salty fruit flavors.
  • Amontillado - A bit bolder with nutty flavors.
  • Palo Cortado - This is much richer with roasted flavors of molasses and coffee.
  • Oloroso - This style is intentionally exposed to oxygen during aging resulting its dark appearance and nutty flavors.

Sweet Sherry: Made from Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes:

  • Pedro Ximéniz (PX) - This is the sweetest style with flavors dates and figs.
  • Moscatel - This has sweet caramel flavors.
  • Sweet Sherry: A blend of Oloroso and PX Sherry.

Vermouth is another fortified wine originally from Italy. Vermouth is produced from neutral grape wine or unfermented wine must. Producers then add additional alcohol and their own mixture of botanical products including fruits, herbs, spices and roots. After the wine is aromatized and fortified, the Vermouth may be bottled dry, or sweeteners such as sugar may be added to create the sweet style of Vermouth.

So during the past few entries we've made a quick pass through the most popular fortified wines. Next, we'll investigate dessert wines.  Cheers!