Why is Wine Fortified? Exploring the Reasons through WSET Bitesize

In this blog post, we delve into the world of wine fortification and seek to answer the age-old question: why is wine fortified? Using insights from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Bitesize program, we explore the reasons behind fortification and how it impacts the taste and quality of wine. If you’re a wine enthusiast curious about the processes that go into making your favorite tipple, read on to uncover the secrets of wine fortification.

Why is Wine Fortified? Exploring the Reasons through WSET Bitesize


A fortified wine is a wine that has additional alcohol added to it, usually in the form of brandy or another distilled beverage. This process of fortification has been used for centuries as a way to preserve wine and create unique styles with enhanced flavors and aromas. In this article, we’ll be exploring the reasons why wine is fortified, as well as delving into some of the most well-known styles of fortified wine.

The Reasons for Fortifying Wine


One of the primary reasons why wine is fortified is for preservation purposes. Wine is susceptible to spoilage from bacteria and other microorganisms, which can cause it to go bad relatively quickly. By adding alcohol to wine, the fortified wine can resist and kill those microbes, preserving it for much longer. This is why you’ll often find fortified wines aged for decades, or even centuries.

Enhanced Flavors and Aromas

Fortifying wine can also result in new aromas and flavors, making it more complex. The additional alcohol can extract flavors from the oak barrels that the wine is aged in, adding complexity to the finished product. Additionally, the heat and oxidation that fortified wines go through during aging can create new flavors and aromas in the wine.

Increased Body

Fortifying wine can also increase its body, making it feel thicker and more full-bodied on the palate. This is due to the additional alcohol, which adds weight and viscosity to the wine. The higher alcohol content can also contribute to a warming sensation, making the wine feel more full-bodied and satisfying.

Vintage Port

One of the most well-known styles of fortified wine is vintage port. This sweet, full-bodied wine is fortified with a spirit called aguardente, which is added to the wine while it is still fermenting. The addition of aguardente stops the fermentation process, leaving behind residual sugar and resulting in a sweet wine with high alcohol content. Vintage port is typically aged in oak barrels for a few years before being bottled, and can be aged for up to several decades.

Fino Sherry

Fino Sherry is a dry white wine that is fortified with a grape spirit and matured under a thin layer of living yeast. This yeast layer, called the flor, imparts its own complex aromas and flavors to the wine, giving it a unique character. Fino Sherry is typically aged for several years and is best consumed chilled, making it an ideal aperitif.

Other Fortified Wine Styles

Fortified wine styles can have a diverse range of aromas and flavors derived from the base wine, the spirit used for fortifying, and the aging process. Some popular styles include:

  • Madeira: A Portuguese wine that is fortified and then subjected to high heat and oxidation, resulting in a wine with a nutty, caramel-like flavor.
  • Vermouth: A fortified wine that is flavored with a blend of botanicals, including wormwood, and is typically used in cocktails.
  • Marsala: Another Italian fortified wine that is aged in the solera system, resulting in a wine with a complex flavor profile and a range of sweetness levels.
  • Sherry: There are numerous styles of sherry, ranging from dry to sweet, that are fortified with grape spirit and aged using the solera system.


In conclusion, fortifying wine has been used for centuries as a way to preserve it and create unique styles with enhanced flavors and aromas. From vintage port to fino sherry, fortified wines have a diversity of styles and flavors that appeal to a wide range of palates. By understanding the reasons why wine is fortified, you can better appreciate the complexity and depth of these distinct and interesting wines.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Is it safe to drink vintage port that is decades old?
  • Vintage port can be safely consumed even if it is several decades old, as long as it has been stored properly and is free from obvious signs of oxidation or spoilage.
  1. Are all fortified wines sweet?
  • No, fortified wines can range from very sweet to very dry, depending on the style and the producer.
  1. Can fortified wines be used in cooking?
  • Yes, fortified wines like port, sherry, and Madeira are commonly used in cooking to add depth and complexity to sauces, marinades, and other dishes.
  1. What is the difference between fortified wine and regular wine?
  • Fortified wine has had additional alcohol added to it, which can preserve it, increase its body, and create new flavors and aromas.
  1. How should I store fortified wine?
  • Fortified wine should be stored in a cool, dark place, ideally on its side to keep the cork moist. Once opened, it should be consumed within a few days and stored in the refrigerator.