Making Fortified Wine

The word “fortified” is prohibited on commercial wine labels in the United States. Yet we are surrounded by a fascinating array of fortified wines when we visit a good wine shop. Fortified wines are simply those to which distilled spirits have been added to raise the final alcohol level. Some sweet dessert wines, like late harvest Zinfandel or Sauternes, may have elevated alcohol levels purely as a result of fermenting high-sugar musts. The world’s most famous sweet dessert wine, though, is Port. That wine, originating in Oporto in Portugal, is made with fortification — as are many “Port-style” wines from other countries. At the other end of the flavor spectrum from the sweet dessert wines, we find fortification in many aperitif wines — those traditionally served before a meal or with appetizers. Both dry (French) and sweet (Italian) vermouth are made by adding distilled spirits to a wine base. Beyond the U.S. label restriction, there are many rules, regulations, and taxes that address fortified wines. Commercial producers may typically use only distilled alcohol derived from the same product as the