Updated on: 08 Dec 2021

What Is The Difference Between Fortified Vs Unfortified Wine?

What Is The Difference Between Fortified Vs Unfortified Wine?

Fortified vs unfortified wine. What  is the difference between them? Technical terms are often confusing when all you want is to enjoy a glass of your favorite vino. Be it Merlot, Pinot Gris, or Port, why bother with the fortified vs unfortified thing?

The truth is that if you’re interested in wine quaffing only, learning the difference between the two types of wine could be useless.

But if you’re a true wine lover and want to cherish this beverage like it deserves, knowing what wine you drink, which are its characteristics, and what processes led to the taste you enjoy is a must. Especially if you want to make a jaw-drop conversation with other wine-loving friends.

To learn the difference, we have to start with the basics, so let’s see what is the unfortified wine.

What is Unfortified Wine?

Wine is produced from grapes through fermentation. I’m not going to explain the whole process here, but the result is unfortified wine.

This is wine as most of us know it. A beverage with an average alcohol content between 11 and 16%, although some may have less or more alcohol in them. Unfortified wine refers to all wines produced through the standard winemaking (either traditional or industrialized) achieved from nothing but fermented grape juice.

This means your preferred red wine, white wine, rosé wine or sparkling wine is unfortified.

What is Fortified Wine?

Before explaining what fortified wine really is, I must say that according to the government, the term fortified wine refers to any wine with an alcoholic concentration higher than 16%, up to 24%. This leads us to believe any wine that is more alcoholic than this threshold is fortified, but this is simply wrong.

An unfortified wine can have a higher alcoholic concentration. This is typically the case of sweet dessert wines achieved through the addition of sugar and yeast to the dry wine. The final wines achieved are not only sweeter, but they are also more alcoholic.

However, fortified wine in the true meaning of the word means a wine achieved through the addition of a spirit to the wine, dry or sweet that is.

The spirit is typically brandy or cognac made from the same type of wine you want to fortify, and the method was discovered in the 17th century by the wine merchants transporting wine from continental Europe to England.

The wine was transported by ships and the less than ideal conditions often spoiled the beverage. Merchants, therefore, had to come up with a solution to preserve wine, and noticed that more alcohol preserves its properties for longer.

Some of the most popular fortified wines include Port, Madeira, Sherry, Vermouth, and Marsala, although there are also other less popular types, such as Vin Santo from Tuscany.

Fortified Vs Unfortified Wine

Unfortified Wine

Fortified Wine

Dry / Semi-dry / Sweet

Typically sweet

11-16% alcohol content

16-24% alcohol content

Aged in wood or metal casks

Aged in wood casks exclusively

Best served chilled or at room temperature

Best served at room temperature

Appetizer / Meal / Dessert wines

Mostly dessert wines

Final Thoughts

You now know what is the difference between fortified vs unfortified wines, but things are not as simple as they seem.

At a first glance, it may look there is a huge difference between the two categories, but in reality, there isn’t. There are many unfortified wines that have a higher concentration of alcohol due to the high content of sugar in the grape juice prior to fermentation.

Moreover, contrary to the popular belief, fortified wines don’t have a spirit aftertaste. The brandy added to the wine loses its characteristics and only enhances the flavors of the primary beverage. You won’t feel the brandy but will likely taste the flavorful caramel, nutty, or toffee hints in the wine.

But then, these hints are common to many unfortified wines. So, when it comes down to choosing your favorite between the two styles, it’s almost impossible. The best thing to do is to learn which wines go with which foods and pair them with the right dishes to make sure you valorize the true aromas and flavors in the wine.

About the Author Tim Edison

Although not having any formal training in wine, Tim has developed an irrefutable love of wine and interest in anything related to it ever since he was a little kid. Coming from a family of wine lovers, it was from a young age that he got exposed to wine and the culture that goes with it and has been addicted ever since. Having traveled to dozens of wine regions across the world including those in France, Italy, California, Australia, and South Africa and tasted a large selection of their wines, it is with great joy that he hopes to share those experiences here and take you along on the journey.

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