What does it really mean to say that a wine is “fortified”?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I want to know, what does “fortified” really mean? Does it mean that you added alcohol to the wine?

—Denise B., Brockton, Mass.

Dear Denise,

You’re on the right track. A wine that is fortified—like a Sherry, Port or Muscat—has spirits (usually neutral, distilled grape spirits, sort of like a clear brandy) added to it. The spirits may be added at or near the beginning of fermentation (as in France’s vin doux naturel), during fermentation (as in Port) or after fermentation (as in Sherry).

Fortification was developed in the 17th century. Port was initially a dry red, but back then, winemakers discovered that a little brandy improved the wine and strengthened it for shipping. Since Port is fortified during fermentation—while sugar is still being converted into alcohol—it remains on the sweet side, because the spirits halt fermentation by killing the remaining yeasts. And I’m glad they kept the method up, because the wines can be so gosh-darn yummy.

—Dr. Vinny

Fortified Wines Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Can I ask a restaurant to store my own bottle of wine there for a few weeks before I come in to drink it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for corkage and BYOB etiquette.

May 3, 2021

How long does it take a new vineyard to yield grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how long it takes a grapevine to produce …

Apr 26, 2021

Which wines are “clean”? What does that even mean?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that there are no "unclean" wines, and the term …

Apr 19, 2021

How many gallons of wine are in a ton of grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how many barrels, gallons, cases and bottles of …

Apr 12, 2021

Does wine age the same under synthetic and natural corks?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of a variety of wine closures, …

Apr 5, 2021

Does Champagne age well?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens to sparkling wine as it ages.

Mar 29, 2021