Posts Tagged neutral brandy

Mmmm: Fortified Wines!

I’m not talking about “Thunderbird” or other cheap wines to which distilled alcohol has been added for a quick buzz. We’ll leave those to college frat parties.

I’m talking about elegant and prized wines often enjoyed as an aperitif or with dessert. Fortified wines are created with special processes whereby the winemaker adds neutral brandy to the wine. Neutral brandy (also called grape spirits) is distilled wine which has not been aged in toasted barrels.

Some regions of the world are famous for this process such as Portugal (Port) and Spain (Sherry and Madeira). The extra alcohol (and sugar for sweet wines) also mean these wines can last for a very long time in the bottle. They were favored by our Founding Fathers because they could survive the long ocean voyage without damage.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy during alcohol fermentation, the brandy kills the yeast and stops fermentation leaving residual sugar resulting in a sweet wine. Port and some Sherry wines use this approach.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy after fermentation is complete, it results in a dry fortified wine. Dry Sherry and Madeira wines use this method.

Because of the brandy, fortified wines have higher alcohol content, usually around 18-20% by volume. Because of this, they are served in smaller portions than regular wines (usually about 2-3 ounces versus 5-6 ounces for regular wines). Many regions have even developed traditional glassware for their fortified wines which emphsize the character while keeping portions reasonable.

Strong fortified wines usually go best with foods with strong flavors. Sweet desserts, dried fruits, roasted nuts, and “stinky” cheeses (Bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, etc.) are often associated with these wines whether they’re sweet or dry.

Try out different combinations to see which types of foods you like best with fortified wines.

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