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Dessert, Sherry, Port & other Fortified wine

Learn about dessert, Sherry, Port & other fortified wine — the range of styles, how they are made and more …

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What are the types and styles of dessert wine?

Dessert wines come in an impressive array of styles and sweetness levels. The most straightforward method for making dessert wine is quite simply a late harvest of wine grapes, though further distinctions arise based on country of origin. The main examples include Sauternes (France), Tokaji (Hungary) and ice wine (Germany and Canada).

What are the types and styles of fortified wine?

Fortified wines (meaning alcohol has been added during the winemaking process) include Sherry, Port, Madeira, Banyuls, Rutherglen and other very small-scale styles. Sherry comes in completely dry styles (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado) and also in a range of sweetness levels. Madeira is typically sweet but can be made into a dry style. Port can be most simply separated into Tawny and Ruby styles. Vermouth, an herb-infused fine wine, is today popular among mixologists and other dessert wines are derived, not from wine grapes, but from different fruits.

How are dessert and fortified wines made?

As mentioned above, many wines in this category—like Sauternes and Tokaji—are produced by leaving the grapes on the vine long after the rest of the harvest has been processed in order to accumulate very high sugar levels. Often, a form of “noble” rot called botrytis plays a role, desiccating the grapes until only the very flavorful solids and sugars remain. These late-picked wines are, accordingly, often referred to as late-harvest wines. In colder climates, the grapes may be allowed to freeze on the vine for the production of ice wine. Other styles are made by letting the harvested grapes dry out (also concentrating sugars). Fortified wines are fortified with neutral spirits to increase the level of alcohol, and, depending on the final style of wine desired, arrest fermentation while some level, high to low (or no), residual sugar remains.

What gives dessert and fortified wines their color?

The different colors of most dessert wines come from the type of grape used and varying levels of oxidation during the winemaking process. The colors of Sherry and Port are mainly the result of oxidation, or lack thereof. Fino and Manzanilla styles are clear to pale gold because of the benevolent film-forming yeasts, called flor, that make a floating seal on the surface of the wine. This layer protects the wine from oxidation, and thus any browning. The other styles of Sherry use various levels of controlled oxidation, resulting in various hues of amber. The two basic styles of Port, Ruby and Tawny, also come in two basic colors, as noted by their names. Both styles are made from the same blend of Douro red varieties, but Tawny ports are tawny in color because they are made from a blend of vintages that have been aged in barrels and gradually exposed to oxygen. Ruby Ports retain their bright color because these wines are aged in barrel only for two to three years before bottling, thus minimizing any color change from oxidation.

How do you serve dessert and fortified wines?

Because of the typically higher sugar and alcohol content, the recommended serving size for most dessert, Sherry & Port wines is three ounces, which is smaller than for regular table wine. In general dessert wines should be served cold—a very sweet Tokaji is served at 40F; Sauternes are best at 50F. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are best served at 45-50F, while the Amontillados, Olorosos and beyond, are best at 55F. Tawny Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 50-55F, whereas Ruby and Vintage Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 65F.

How long do dessert and fortified wines last?

High quality dessert wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji can often improve up to 10 to 20 years from bottling. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries should be consumed within a year or two of bottling since they are most appreciated for their freshness. Once opened, these are best consumed within a week. Store Amontillado Sherry up to about three years; once opened and refrigerated, these last two to three weeks before they decline. Store Oloro Sherry up to five years; once opened and refrigerated, these last a few weeks or longer. Cream Sherries are best consumed in their youth. Pedro Ximénez Sherry is a special case. It won’t necessarily improve with age, but is known to remain unchanged after many years of age. The two basic styles of Port can be further separated into an almost dizzying list of styles, but in general the only ones meant to age longer once bottled are crusted ports and vintage ports (from a declared vintage). Aside from those, LBV (late bottled vintage) ports should age about 4-6 years from the release date and the rest are ready to drink upon release. Fruit wines are not meant to age; the fresh fruit qualities of these wines are most prominent in their youth.

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  • Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Port Front Label
    Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Port
    Port from Douro, Portugal
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    • Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port Front Label
      Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
      Port from Douro, Portugal
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    • Graham's Vintage Port 2016  Front Label
      Graham's Vintage Port 2016
      Port from Douro, Portugal
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      • RP95
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    • Inniskillin Vidal Icewine (375ML half-bottle) 2017 Front Label
      Inniskillin Vidal Icewine (375ML half-bottle) 2017
      Other Dessert from Canada
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      • RP93
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      • Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny Front Label
        Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny
        Port from Portugal
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        • Lillet Blanc Front Label
          Lillet Blanc
          Vermouth from France
          • WE92
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          • Vanderpump Red Sangria  Front Label
            Vanderpump Red Sangria
            Fruit Wine from California
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              • Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port Front Label
                Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port
                Port from Portugal
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                • WS90
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                • Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny Front Bottle Shot
                  Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny
                  Port from Portugal
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                  • Yalumba Antique Tawny Port (375ML half-bottle)  Front Label
                    Yalumba Antique Tawny Port (375ML half-bottle)
                    Port from Barossa Valley, Barossa, South Australia, Australia
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                    • D91
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                  • Sandeman Founders Reserve Ruby Port Front Label
                    Sandeman Founders Reserve Ruby Port
                    Port from Portugal
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                    • Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny in Gift Box Front Label
                      Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny in Gift Box
                      Port from Australia
                      • RP92
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                    • Broadbent 30 Year Tawny Port  Front Label
                      Broadbent 30 Year Tawny Port
                      Port from Douro, Portugal
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                      • Graham's 30 Year Old Tawny Port Front Label
                        Graham's 30 Year Old Tawny Port
                        Port from Douro, Portugal
                        • JS96
                        • WE95
                        • WS95
                        • D95
                        • RP94
                        • WW94
                        4.6 47 Ratings
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                        • Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserva Tawny Port Front Label
                          Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserva Tawny Port
                          Port from Portugal
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                            • Cockburn's 20 Year Old Tawny Port  Front Label
                              Cockburn's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
                              Port from Portugal
                              • WS94
                              • W&S93
                              • WE91
                              4.4 5 Ratings
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                              • Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port Front Label
                                Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port
                                Port from Amador, Sierra Foothills, California
                                • WE93
                                • WW90
                                4.1 235 Ratings
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                                • Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Tawny Port Front Label
                                  Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Tawny Port
                                  Port from Portugal
                                  • D98
                                  • WE93
                                  • WS92
                                  4.4 49 Ratings
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                                  • Dow's 20 Year Old Tawny Port  Front Label
                                    Dow's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
                                    Port from Portugal
                                    • D94
                                    • WS93
                                    • WE91
                                    4.3 21 Ratings
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                                    • Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port Front Label
                                      Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port
                                      Port from Douro, Portugal
                                      • D95
                                      • W&S91
                                      • WW91
                                      4.1 498 Ratings
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                                      • Dolce (375ML half-bottle) 2013 Front Label
                                        Dolce (375ML half-bottle) 2013
                                        Other Dessert from Coombsville, Napa Valley, California
                                          4.6 18 Ratings
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                                          • Schmitt Sohne Ice Wine (500ML) 2016  Front Label
                                            Schmitt Sohne Ice Wine (500ML) 2016
                                            Other Dessert from Rheinhessen, Germany
                                            • W&S90
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                                            • Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud Sauternes 2016  Front Label
                                              Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud Sauternes 2016
                                              Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
                                                4.8 19 Ratings
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                                                • Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2011  Front Label
                                                  Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2011
                                                  Other Dessert from Tuscany, Italy
                                                  • V93
                                                  4.8 8 Ratings
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                                                • Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Front Label
                                                  Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny
                                                  Port from Portugal
                                                  • D96
                                                  • WS95
                                                  • V94
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                                                  • RP92
                                                  4.8 95 Ratings
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