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Fortified Wine

Fortified, or liqueur wines, are one of the most noble and fascinating types of wine. All over the world there are different versions, all of which have in common the fact that they are produced through the practice of fortification, i.e. the addition of alcohol, must or mistelle with the aim of blocking fermentation, increasing the alcohol content and giving an exuberance of aromas and structure. Their origin lies in the times of the great routes, when English and Spanish traders fortified wine to preserve it during long journeys. This gave rise to the great expressions we know today: from Sicilian Marsala to Madeira, both characterised by aromatic notes due to oxidation, to the deep and intense expressions of Port and Sherry. For each of these types, there are numerous variations, from dry to sweet, always distinguished by that great aromatic complexity that has made them extraordinarily famous and loved throughout the world.

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Fortified, or liqueur wines, are one of the most noble and fascinating types of wine. All over the world there are different versions, all of which have in common the fact that they are produced through the practice of fortification, i.e. the addition of alcohol, must or mistelle with the aim of blocking fermentation, increasing the alcohol content and giving an exuberance of aromas and structure. Their origin lies in the times of the great routes, when English and Spanish traders fortified wine to preserve it during long journeys. This gave rise to the great expressions we know today: from Sicilian Marsala to Madeira, both characterised by aromatic notes due to oxidation, to the deep and intense expressions of Port and Sherry. For each of these types, there are numerous variations, from dry to sweet, always distinguished by that great aromatic complexity that has made them extraordinarily famous and loved throughout the world.

The Fortification Technique

A liqueur wine can only be described as such if it is fortified, or produced by adding alcohol during fermentation. This ancient technique was spread by English traders at the time of the great trade routes of the Modern Age, between the 18th and 19th centuries, with the aim of ensuring the preservation of white or red wine during long sea journeys, even in adverse weather conditions. This technique, initially used for practical purposes, was transformed over the centuries into a complex and refined production process, necessary to give life to noble and highly sought-after enological specialities.

Today, regulations dictate that the alcoholic base, with an alcoholic strength of at least 12%, can be enriched with mistelle, ethyl alcohol, brandy, concentrated or cooked must until it reaches a high alcohol content, but in any case less than twice the initial level. At the end of the process, the alcohol content must be between 15 and 22%, while for the dry types it must not be less than 18%. However, each type requires precise rules. For example, Marsala Vergine, one of the most prestigious and important Italian fortified wines, can only be made from white Sicilian grapes by adding alcohol of wine origin, thus excluding the use of musts and mistelles. It is also rigorously aged in casks using the Soleras method.

Madeira, on the other hand, produced on the Portuguese island of the same name, is heated with hot air from special stoves in order to simulate the thermal changes and tropical temperatures of long boat trips. This particular practice is responsible for the typical oxidation, accentuated by the long contact with oxygen. Of the many varieties of Sherry that can be produced, Sherry Fino, is aged in barrels that are not filled to capacity but are kept drained in order to encourage the formation of flor yeasts, a layer of yeasts responsible for a typical freshness and delicate hints of walnut and fresh bread. These are just a few examples that show how fortification, production method and ageing can change depending on the type.



The Right Choice for the Table

Once reserved for the upper classes, partly because of the price and lack of availability, the various expressions of fortified types are now contended for by a small number of the world's great wine lovers. The best expressions, characterised by very complex aromas and strong flavours, are not easy to understand or to pair with food. This is why they are traditionally drunk outside meals, as great meditation labels, reserved by very refined gourmets for contemplation. However, pairings are possible and recommended, because they can give great emotions that involve all the senses.

In order to understand the infinite possibilities of pairing liqueur wines, it is first necessary to distinguish semi-dry or dry expressions from sweet ones. A very old Tawny Port can, for example, enhance dishes such as foie gras, mixed crostini, blue cheeses, duck in orange sauce or other roasts with sweet and sour sauces. A younger, fruitier Ruby Port is excellent served chilled as an aperitif or, if very sweet, as an accompaniment to chocolate cakes, fruit tarts or zabaglione. The dry version of Marsala fortified wine is an excellent aperitif, perhaps served with appetizers, olives and cheese, but it is also served with shellfish or lobster, when dressed with very tasty sauces. Marsala Dolci, on the other hand, are strictly for the end of a meal, accompanied by chocolate or a good cigar.

Sherry Fino or Oloroso has great gastronomic versatility, so much so that it is perfect with tapas, cold meats, cheeses and shellfish. The richer, more structured versions can also be served with game. A Pedro Ximenez Sherry, which is usually sweeter, denser and more intense, should be paired with very structured desserts based on cocoa, dried fruit, caramel and jam. These are just a few examples. The world of wine pairings is in fact rich and varied and offers many solutions and possibilities, often unpredictable.

Buy fortified wines online now at Callmewine and discover our selections on offer at special prices. Buy the bottles you prefer or let yourself be guided by the advice of our sommelier.