What is fortfied wine?

This is also known as a liqueur. It is a wine that is fortified with additional alcohol (wine spirit) which is added to the base of wine during fermentation, which results in the average alcohol content increasing to between 17 – 20%. There are two styles of fortified wine which are either dry or sweet. The most common types of fortified wines are Port, Sherry, Marsala and Madeira.


Wine spirit is made from the third or fourth pressings of the grapes. This wine is distilled in a continuous process that of all its flavor and ethyl alcohol is retrieved in a virtually pure state as neutral wine spirit.   It does not contribute to the aroma complexity of the fortified wine and only preserves and fortifies the flavours that are already present.

How are fortified wines made?

Fortified wines are blends of different grapes and vintages. The determining factor for whether they are dry or sweet is when the alcohol (known as Neutral grape sprits) is added to the wine during fermentation. If you are making a sweeter wine the neutral grape spirits are added within the first day and a half of fermentation.

The reaction is, once the additional alcohol is added, the yeast stops converting sugar to alcohol and all of the remaining grape sugar is left as residual sugar. If you are making a dry style, you let the full fermentation process run its course which means the alcohol converts the remaining sugar and then you add the neutral grape spirits to the wine.

How is a fortified wine aged?

Many fortified wines undergo aging in wooden casks. The aging depends on the fortified wine but normally the cheaper the fortified wine the less time it spends aging in oak. Due to the deep wood aging, many fortified wines will benefit from being decanted and aerated.

Different types of Fortified wine:

There are different types of fortified wines, namely Sherry, Port and Muscat type dessert wines eg Muscadel, Hanepoot, Marsala and Madeira.

These wines differ from one another by the following points:

  • Utilisation of grape variety
  • Point when fortification takes place
  • Type of spirit added
  • Blending
  • Method followed for ageing or maturation


Dessert wines are very sweet and can be divided into two categories: non Muscat which are port and sherry and then Muscat which is Muscadel and Hanepoot.

Sherry :

Sherry is traditionally from Spain. Due to Similar geographical and climatic factors in South Africa we are also able to produce sherries which is close to the Spanish product. The most famous region for producing South African sherries is the Boberg Region (Paarl and Tulbagh).

The grape varieties used to make sherry in Southern Africa is Chenin Blanc (Steen), White French (Palomino), Colombar and Semillon.


Grape Varieties used to make sherry in Spain are Palomino and Pedro Ximinez.

Sherries are made from white wine with little aroma and have a neutral character. The character develops during the maturation process. Sherries can vary from being very dry to full sweet. In South Africa 4 basic components are blended which are used to provide different styles of sherry. The components in their unfinished form are: Pale sherry (for flor character), Brown Sherry (Backbone), Sweet Sherry (Sweetener) and Shermos (colour).


Pale Sherry – Fino is the main ingredient of classic pale sherry. During production the flor yeast is introduced which helps give the sherry the nutty character.

Brown Sherry – (Oloroso) – this is the second building block. Sweet sherry – this is also known as white Jerepigo. This is full sweet grape juice that is used exclusively for blending. No fermentation of this juice takes place. Shermos – this is a blend of brown sherry and concentrated grape juice. The concentrate is caramalised so is dark in colour.


There are 4 different styles of Sherry:

  • Fino or Pale Dry (this is a straw colour)
  • Medium Dry (richer to golden colour)
  • Full Cream (warm golden colour and is a little sweet)
  • Old Brown (this is very dark brown almost like chocolate and is very sweet)


Port :

There are 4 different types of ports.

Cape Ruby Port is made from grapes which have been selected for their specific character of freshness and fruitiness. These are matured in large vats for 6 months. The ruby red colour is usually retained and so is the fruity character.

Cape Tawny Port is made from wines which have greater character and are matured in wood. The influence of the wood and larger degree of oxidation that takes place, results in the port becoming browner in colour as the port matures. You are not allowed to blend white and red port.

Cape Vintage Port is made from grapes of only one vintage. They select the best wine and it is matured in oak vats for a minimum of one year. After that the port is bottled and then aged in bottles for longer. The longer they have been matured in the bottle the better.

White Port is made from non-Muscat and Chenin Blanc in South Africa and due to the white grapes it lacks colour. This is matured in wooden casks of all different sizes for a minimum period of 6 months.

Muscadel and Hanepoot:

Muscat dessert wines refer to the grape variety used. Muscat d Alexandrie and white or red muscadel have a very distinctive Muscat-type flavor and aroma to the wine. They have loads of fruit character. The areas that produce good muscat dessert wines in South Africa are the Klein Karoo, Robertson, Worcester, Montagu and Bonnievale.