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:
|Aspect||Fortified Wine||Unfortified Wine|
|Production Process||Fortification with added spirits||Fermentation of grape juice|
|Alcohol Content||Higher (typically 17-22% ABV)||Lower to moderate (11-15% ABV)|
|Sweetness||Sweeter than unfortified wine||Less sweet than fortified wine|
|Aging Potential||Can age for decades||Typically best consumed young|
|Flavor Profile||Rich, complex, nutty, fruity||Varied, reflecting grape variety|
|Examples of Types||Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala||Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir|
|Serving Temperature||Often served slightly chilled||Served at cellar temperature|
|Food Pairing||Often with desserts, cheese, chocolates, or as aperitifs||Versatile; pairs with a wide range of foods like roast chicken, creamy pasta, and soft cheeses|
|Region of Origin||Portugal, Spain, Italy, and other regions||Worldwide, including France, USA, Australia, etc.|
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.
- 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.
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
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
Just like fortified wines, unfortified wines also come in a variety of popular types. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.