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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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  • Hundred Acre Fortification 2006  Front Label
    Hundred Acre Fortification 2006
    Port from Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California
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  • Graham's Quinta Dos Malvedos Vintage Port 2006  Front Label
    Graham's Quinta Dos Malvedos Vintage Port 2006
    Port from Douro, Portugal
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      • Dow's Quinta do Bomfim 2006 Front Label
        Dow's Quinta do Bomfim 2006
        Port from Portugal
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        • Chateau de Fargues Sauternes 2006 Front Label
          Chateau de Fargues Sauternes 2006
          Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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        • Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2006  Front Label
          Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2006
          Port from Douro, Portugal
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            • Quady Electra California Moscato 2006 Front Label
              Quady Electra California Moscato 2006
              Other Dessert from California
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                • Sandeman Late Bottled Vintage 2006 Front Label
                  Sandeman Late Bottled Vintage 2006
                  Port from Portugal
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                    • Dow's Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2006 Front Label
                      Dow's Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2006
                      Port from Portugal
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                      • Quady Starboard Vintage Port 2006
                        Port from Amador, Sierra Foothills, California
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                        • Chateau Padouen Sauternes 2006 Front Label
                          Chateau Padouen Sauternes 2006
                          Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                            • Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2006 Front Label
                              Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2006
                              Other Dessert from California
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                                • Dow's Late Bottled Vintage 2006 Front Label
                                  Dow's Late Bottled Vintage 2006
                                  Port from Portugal
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                                  • Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2006 Front Label
                                    Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2006
                                    Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                                    • RP93
                                    • WS92
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                                  • Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2006 Front Label
                                    Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2006
                                    Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                                  • Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2006 Front Label
                                    Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2006
                                    Port from Portugal
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                                    • Jaboulet Beaumes de Venise Muscat 2006 Front Label
                                      Jaboulet Beaumes de Venise Muscat 2006
                                      Other Dessert from Rhone, France
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                                        • Quady Elysium Black Muscat 2006 Front Label
                                          Quady Elysium Black Muscat 2006
                                          Other Dessert from California
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                                            • Chateau Rabaud Promis Sauternes 2006 Front Label
                                              Chateau Rabaud Promis Sauternes 2006
                                              Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                                            • Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 2006 Front Label
                                              Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 2006
                                              Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
                                              • WE96
                                              • RP95
                                              • WS91
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                                            • Fantinel La Roncaia Picolit 2006 Front Label
                                              Fantinel La Roncaia Picolit 2006
                                              Other Dessert from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
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                                                • Brassfield Elevado Zinfandel Dessert Wine 2006 Front Label
                                                  Brassfield Elevado Zinfandel Dessert Wine 2006
                                                  Other Dessert from High Valley, Lake County, North Coast, California
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                                                    • DeRose Vineyards Port 2006 Front Label
                                                      DeRose Vineyards Port 2006
                                                      Other Dessert from Central Coast, California
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                                                        • Optima Orgaz-Zin Zinfandel Port 2006 Front Label
                                                          Optima Orgaz-Zin Zinfandel Port 2006
                                                          Port from Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California
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                                                            • Heller Estate Toby's Vintage Merlot Port 2006 Front Label
                                                              Heller Estate Toby's Vintage Merlot Port 2006
                                                              Port from Carmel Valley, Monterey, Central Coast, California
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                                                                • Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2006 Front Label
                                                                  Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2006
                                                                  Other Dessert from Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California
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