Fortified vs. Unfortified Wine: The Main Difference

What is the difference between Fortified and Unfortified wine?

The main difference between fortified and unfortified wine lies in the production process. Fortified wines have distilled spirits added during fermentation, resulting in a higher alcohol content compared to unfortified wine, which only contains naturally occurring alcohol from the grapes. Additionally, fortified wines tend to be sweeter due to the addition of the spirit halting fermentation early. The taste profiles and food pairings also differ between the two types.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive comparison between fortified and unfortified wine, including their production process, flavor profile, and health benefits.

Fortified Wine vs. Unfortified Wine

Quick Comparison Table

If you don’t have time, we have comparison table comparing fortified and unfortified wine across various aspects:

AspectFortified WineUnfortified Wine
Production ProcessFortification with added spiritsFermentation of grape juice
Alcohol ContentHigher (typically 17-22% ABV)Lower to moderate (11-15% ABV)
SweetnessSweeter than unfortified wineLess sweet than fortified wine
Aging PotentialCan age for decadesTypically best consumed young
Flavor ProfileRich, complex, nutty, fruityVaried, reflecting grape variety
Examples of TypesPort, Sherry, Madeira, MarsalaCabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir
Serving TemperatureOften served slightly chilledServed at cellar temperature
Food PairingOften with desserts, cheese, chocolates, or as aperitifsVersatile; pairs with a wide range of foods like roast chicken, creamy pasta, and soft cheeses
Region of OriginPortugal, Spain, Italy, and other regionsWorldwide, including France, USA, Australia, etc.


  • Caramel
  • Chocolate
  • Vanilla
  • Toffee
  • Oak

Fortified wines are typically rich, full-bodied, and often sweet, although dry varieties exist. Their flavor profile is generally intense, with tasting notes that may include dried fruits, spices, and nuts. The high alcohol content in fortified wines, which ranges from 15% to 20%, significantly influences their taste, giving them a warm, robust mouthfeel.

Fortified wines often have a potent aroma due to the added spirits. This aroma can be complex and layered, with sweet fortified wines giving off scents of caramel, chocolate, and ripe fruit. On the other hand, dry fortified wines may have a more savory, nutty aroma. The process of aging in barrels further enhances the aroma, lending nuances of oak, vanilla, and toffee.

  • Citrusy
  • Blackberries
  • Cherry
  • Floral
  • White Grapes
  • Red Grapes

Unfortified wines, including white, red, and rose wines, have a lower alcohol content ranging from 9% to 16%. This results in a lighter mouthfeel compared to fortified wines. The flavor profile of unfortified wine varies depending on the type of grape used and the region it is grown. However, they typically have notes of fruit, herbs, and flowers.

White unfortified wines are often crisp, with citrusy or floral notes. Red unfortified wines tend to be more robust, with flavors of dark fruits like blackberries and cherries. Rosé wines, made from a blend of red and white grapes, have a refreshing taste that can range from dry to sweet.

Alcohol Content

Fortified wines possess a greater alcohol content compared to most standard wines, ranging from 15% to 20%. This is notably higher than the alcohol content found in unfortified wine, which typically varies from 9% to 16%. The exact alcohol content in fortified wine depends on the extent of fortification and the specific type of distilled spirit employed. Ports, a well-known variety of fortified wine, generally contain around 20% alcohol, while sherry, another popular fortified wine, usually registers closer to 15%.

Unfortified wines generally have a lower alcohol content compared to their fortified counterparts, typically ranging from 9% to 16%. Light-bodied white wines like Vinho Verde and Muscadet often have an alcohol content of around 10%-11%, while full-bodied red wines such as Zinfandel and Syrah can reach up to 15%-16%. Medium-bodied wines like most varietals of Chardonnay or Merlot usually fall somewhere in between.

Best Fortified & Unfortified Wine

Top Fortified Wine Varieties

Certain fortified wines have emerged as beloved favorites among enthusiasts, although taste remains subjective. Ports, Sherry, and Madeiras stand out as the most popular varieties.

Top Unfortified Wine Varieties

Top Unfortified Wine Varieties

Just like fortified wines, unfortified wines also come in a variety of popular types. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.


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Williams T. Edwards
Williams T. Edwards, the visionary founder of Williams Minneapolis, has not only shaped a vibrant and dynamic venue but has also brought his expertise in wine coolers to the forefront of the local scene. This unique establishment, with its blend of history and modernity, invites patrons to experience its welcoming ambiance, diverse beverage selection, and entertainment options. Whether you're a local looking for a reliable favorite or a visitor seeking a memorable night out, Williams Minneapolis is a must-visit destination in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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