Purple Palate Blog

Fortified Wines


Fortified wines are classed by the EU as “Liqueurs”, and generally range from 15% to 22% ABV.

They are called so because of the use of a fortifying spirit.  This spirit is usually grape based but has been known to be grain and even coal spirit.

In broad strokes historically there are 4 general distinctions in the category.

VDN, or Vin Doux Naturale, which are essentially Must (wine grape juice), that has undergone little to no fermentation and is fortified to 17-20% ABV.  Very sweet, very alcoholic, very little tannin, and may have slight oxidised characters if Maderized.

In the Old World, France is particularly renowned for them, from Rhone region with Beaumes de Venise (usually Muscat based) and Banyuls (which may be Grenache based) and Rivesaltes (either.or from both) from Languedoc-Roussillon region.

While Australia is renowned for it’s VDN from Rutherglen with it’s Rutherglen Muscat achieving international acceptance.

Sherry from Spain, made particularly in Jerez, and Sanlucar.

Based generally around Palomino Fino grapes, using a Solera aging technique creating 3 of the 5 major styles, these being Fino, Oloroso, and Amontillado.  With Pedro Ximenez grapes (and Muscat) made in a VDN style.  Oloroso and Amontillado maybe sweetened to make a Cream (or Sweetened style), and finally Palo Cortado style which is based on a Bodegas or House style.

Fino shows flor, little to no oxidised note, Oloroso shows lots of oxidised notes, Amontillado blend of the 2.

Portugal is the home to 2 fortified classifications, Maderia and the most famous Port.

Port is based  around the Douro region (Baixo Corgo,Cima Corgo,and Douro Superior) and generally around 5 grape varietals , Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cao, and Tinto Barocca.  Making both fresh vibrant non oxidised styles,  with Ruby, Vintage, Traditional LBV styles, and Crusted and oxidised of styles Tawny, Tawny with age statement, Colheita, 10yr, 20 yr, 30 yr, 40 yr old styles.  Also there is White port made from white grapes and a Rose port.

While Madeira is owned by Portugal (and is therefore classed a Portugese), it is actually 1000klms away from the mainland on the island of Madeira, off the north west African coast.

The Island has created a niche style of oxidised, and heated (maderised) fortified wine made from 5 major grapes varietals ranging in sweetness.

These are Tinta Negro mole (Red grapes varietal making 85% of all Madeira), and white grapes,Malvesia, Buals, Sercial, and Verdelho making increasing sweetness styles.

We will look closer at each of the Fortified wines soon



Andrew Laidlaw Jones


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