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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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  • Disznoko Late Harvest Tokaji Furmint (500ML) 2018  Front Label
    Disznoko Late Harvest Tokaji Furmint (500ML) 2018
    Other Dessert from Hungary
    • WW93
    • W&S93
    4.8 32 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
      4.3 62 Ratings
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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
        • V93
        • RP92
        • WE92
        • WS91
        • D91
        4.2 166 Ratings
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      • Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez (500ML) Front Label
        Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez (500ML)
        Sherry from Jerez, Spain
        • WS92
        4.0 21 Ratings
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        • Emilio Hidalgo Morenita Cream Sherry Front Label
          Emilio Hidalgo Morenita Cream Sherry
          Sherry from Jerez, Spain
          • WS91
          • WE90
          4.0 54 Ratings
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          • Bodegas Poniente Fino Sherry  Front Label
            Bodegas Poniente Fino Sherry
            Sherry from Jerez, Spain
            • RP94
            • JS92
            4.3 20 Ratings
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            • Cesar Florido Moscatel Dorado (375ML half-bottle) Front Label
              Cesar Florido Moscatel Dorado (375ML half-bottle)
              Other Dessert from Jerez, Spain
              • W&S92
              • RP90
              4.1 32 Ratings
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              • Inniskillin Gold Vidal Icewine (375ML half-bottle) 2019  Front Label
                Inniskillin Gold Vidal Icewine (375ML half-bottle) 2019
                Other Dessert from Canada
                • W&S97
                • RP94
                4.7 5 Ratings
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                • Alvaro Domecq Fino La Janda Sherry  Front Label
                  Alvaro Domecq Fino La Janda Sherry
                  Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                  • WE90
                  3.7 8 Ratings
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                  • Broadbent 10 Year Tawny Port  Front Label
                    Broadbent 10 Year Tawny Port
                    Port from Douro, Portugal
                      4.3 14 Ratings
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                    • Alvear Amontillado (Medium Dry) Front Label
                      Alvear Amontillado (Medium Dry)
                      Other Fortified from Montilla-Moriles, Spain
                      • JD90
                      3.9 29 Ratings
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                      • Zuccardi Malamado Malbec Port  Front Label
                        Zuccardi Malamado Malbec Port
                        Port from Mendoza, Argentina
                          4.3 36 Ratings
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                          • Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (375ML half-bottle)  Front Bottle Shot
                            Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (375ML half-bottle)
                            Vermouth from Italy
                            • WE95
                            4.4 225 Ratings
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                            • Quinta de la Rosa Lot 601 Ruby (500ML bottle) Front Label
                              Quinta de la Rosa Lot 601 Ruby (500ML bottle)
                              Port from Portugal
                              • WS89
                              4.4 21 Ratings
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                              • Quinta de la Rosa 10 Year Tawny Port Tonel 12 (500ML) Front Label
                                Quinta de la Rosa 10 Year Tawny Port Tonel 12 (500ML)
                                Port from Portugal
                                • WS90
                                4.4 17 Ratings
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                                • Gonzalez Byass Noe Sherry (375ML half-bottle) Front Label
                                  Gonzalez Byass Noe Sherry (375ML half-bottle)
                                  Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                                  • D95
                                  • WS94
                                  • WE94
                                  4.2 9 Ratings
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                                  • Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery  Front Bottle Shot
                                    Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery
                                    Vermouth from South of France, France
                                      4.2 19 Ratings
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                                      14 99
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                                    • Quinta de la Rosa Tawny Port (500ML bottle)  Front Label
                                      Quinta de la Rosa Tawny Port (500ML bottle)
                                      Port from Portugal
                                      • WS89
                                      4.0 80 Ratings
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                                      • Mata Vermouth Blanco  Front Bottle Shot
                                        Mata Vermouth Blanco
                                        Vermouth from Bierzo, Spain
                                          4.3 26 Ratings
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                                          • Alvaro Domecq Alburejo Oloroso Front Label
                                            Alvaro Domecq Alburejo Oloroso
                                            Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                                            • W&S92
                                            3.0 11 Ratings
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                                            • Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth Extra Seco  Front Bottle Shot
                                              Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth Extra Seco
                                              Vermouth from Jerez, Spain
                                              • WE96
                                              3.8 29 Ratings
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                                              • Hidalgo Faraon Oloroso (500ML) Front Label
                                                Hidalgo Faraon Oloroso (500ML)
                                                Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                                                • WS92
                                                • RP91
                                                3.3 41 Ratings
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                                                • Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat (375ML half-bottle) Front Label
                                                  Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat (375ML half-bottle)
                                                  Other Dessert from Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia
                                                  • WE93
                                                  • RP90
                                                  • W&S90
                                                  3.8 26 Ratings
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                                                • Hidalgo Alameda Cream Sherry (500ML) Front Label
                                                  Hidalgo Alameda Cream Sherry (500ML)
                                                  Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                                                  • RP91
                                                  3.7 33 Ratings
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                                                  • Osborne VORS Venerable 1902 VORS Pedro Ximenez Sherry (500ML)  Front Label
                                                    Osborne VORS Venerable 1902 VORS Pedro Ximenez Sherry (500ML)
                                                    Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                                                    • D97
                                                    • WS93
                                                    • RP92
                                                    • W&S92
                                                    4.3 13 Ratings
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                                                    143
                                                    118 99
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