By definition, a fortified wine is a wine which has a distilled spirit added to it, to increase its alcohol content — fortifying it.

Unlike standard wine, which contains only the alcohol that results from fermentation, fortified wine has extra alcohol added in the form of a flavourless distilled grape-based spirit such as brandy.

Fortified vs dessert wine

A fortified wine can be either dry or sweet, depending on when the winemaker adds the extra spirit.

Unlike fortified wine, dessert wine is always sweet and doesn’t have added alcohol.

Port, sherry, Madeira and Marsala are the four main types of fortified wine.

The two most popular fortified wines are Tawny Port and Ruby Port.

Port wine

Port wine originates in Portugal but is now produced worldwide.

Port wine can end up with percentages as high as 20% of alcohol, making them the seemingly most potent wine out there.

The sweeter the wine, the higher the residual sugar. It’s impossible to get residual sugar levels down to absolute zero at the end of fermentation, and even dry wines have some residual sugar.


Storing port wine in the fridge will keep the flavour better for longer, with sweeter varieties lasting longer than dry varieties.

Once open, no refrigeration is necessary, but it is delicious served chilled.

Fortified wine can be stored in a cool dark place, sealed with a cork. It has a very long shelf life because of the addition of brandy.

This wine looks fantastic displayed on a shelf, but it will lose its vibrant flavours more quickly from exposure to light and heat.


Fortified wine can be sipped alone in small glasses before or after dinner. The drier styles tend to be served as aperitifs while the sweeter styles are more often after-dinner digestifs.

While any fortified wine is designed to be enjoyed straight from the bottle, it is useful in making cocktails. It’s often best in simple drinks, such as white port and tonic.

Fortified wines match beautifully with chocolate, dried fruits or strong cheeses with an intensity to stand up to sorbets, ice cream and coffee. The richer muscats also pair well with pâtés, particularly foie gras and terrine.

Fortified wines also make a great cooking wine.

Some common aromas of fortified wines are almonds, peach, figs, jams, dried fruits, blackberries, black currant, and strawberry. The taste of fortified wines is not perceivable as the aroma perceived is dominant.

Shop for Dow’s fortified wines at