Fortified Fare

For most wine enthusiasts, discovering new and exciting varieties is the essence of true wine appreciation. As Emily Sparshott learns, keeping an open mind and experimenting with fortified wine will only enhance your knowledge and admiration for a good drop.

Personally, I have always enjoyed a traditional full-bodied red, however, I have only recently been introduced to fortified wine and it has proved to be a fascinating – and delicious – discovery.

Compared to table wines, fortified wines have much higher alcohol content – usually between 18–20 per cent – due to the addition of brandy either during or after fermentation. Adding brandy to the wine during production halts the fermentation of the natural sugars in the grape, resulting in a sweeter style of wine. Fortification that occurs after fermentation produces a drier drop, as the natural sugar from the grape has already been converted to alcohol.

While Australia has enjoyed a long history of producing fortified wine, it is important to note that in 1994, a transitional agreement was signed between Australia and the European community on trade in wine. This agreement determined that Australia would begin a phase-out period for geographical indication labelling, and much like Champagne, selected fortified wines can now only be referred to by their geographical indication if the wine originated from that specific region. Since this agreement, Australian winemakers have embraced their own labels for the fortified wine they produce.

Here, Wineries of South Australia delves into the world of fortified wines and discovers why these decadent varieties remain an integral part of the winemaking industry.


Port, or porto as it’s known in its homeland of the Douro Valley in Portugal, was first introduced to the world in the mid-18th century. As Port is exclusively made in Portugal, in Australia it is now referred to in terms of its style: tawny, ruby and vintage.

Ruby wine is a young, lively and vibrant fortified wine and is perhaps the most simple to produce and consume. This style isn’t meant for extensive ageing and can be drunk as soon as it is released. Ruby-red in colour – hence its name – this drop is sweet and fruity on the palate.

Australian tawny wine is made from ripe, red grapes such as shiraz, grenache and cabernet sauvignon, which are generally grown in warmer climates. Tawny is produced by oxidising new and old grapes in wood, allowing it to transform from a lovely ruby colour to an amber-brown colour. Arguably the most popular of the three styles, tawny is a more complex, nutty and rich drop compared to its ruby relative.

A beautiful Australian vintage wine is the finest style of the three mentioned, produced from a single, and particularly successful, vintage. Aged in wood then bottled for further ageing, a great vintage wine can be left to develop for more than 30 years. Indeed, the older the vintage, the better it will present, with a taste similar to treacle.

Australian ruby, tawny and vintage wines are fortified during the fermentation process, making them the perfect dessert wines for decadent, rich cheese and fruit platters. A cold night spent with friends is the perfect atmosphere to savour the delicious sweetness of this style of fortified wine.


Tokay is a protected fortified wine from the Tokaj region of Hungary. While the term Tokay is protected by the European agreement, it has been agreed that the term will be phased-out in Australia by the year 2020, and will be replaced by the term topaque.

Overseas, Hungary’s production of Tokay involves furmint grapes being harvested after noble rot has set in. In contrast, Australian winemakers fortify the muscadelle grape to create four beautiful styles of topaque: Australian topaque, classic, grand and rare.

Australian Topaque wine is the youthful, fruity and playful option of the four styles and is best drunk once the bottle is opened. Aged for approximately two years, topaque is arguably the most user-friendly option for those new to the varietal.

The classic style is the next step-up from topaque, which has been aged for around six years, adding more complexity. Toffee and malt flavours tend to present on the palate, and similar to tawny, the classic style is perfect for those interested in exploring this particular fortified wine without having to break the budget.

With a minimum age of ten years, grand topaque is for those who appreciate smooth,

mouth-filling caramel and toffee flavours. This style is rich and decadent and can be paired with delicious blue cheese or an indulgent, creamy dessert.

Rare topaque is the cream of the crop and is meant for true lovers of the variety. Blended with wine that has been aged for at least 20 years, rare topaque wine presents amazing characters of old oak and malt and is best enjoyed on its own in order to experience the exquisite depths of the drop.

Although this wine has re-invented itself in Australia, topaque is a must-try for those who appreciate fortified wine.


Just as Port is only produced in Portugal and Tokay in Hungary, Marsala is protected as a drink exclusively made in Sicily. The first Marsala produced dates back to the 18th century, and by the late 1700s, it had gained popularity and began being produced en masse.

Marsala is available in sweet or dry styles and each is classified according to its sweetness, colour and how long it has been aged. This wine is determined by three levels of sweetness – secco, semisecco and sweet – while its ageing is typically defined in four main stages and is sold as such.

Fine Marsala involves the least amount of ageing, with the style being drinkable within less than a year. Marsala superiore is aged for at least two years, Marsala superiore riserva is aged for at least four years, and Marsala vergine soleras is the longest-aged style, with it being aged for at least five years. Like other wines, Marsala can be aged for even longer, and will present with more complex and rich flavours each year.

Marsala has many uses and can be drunk on its own, but it is also commonly used in cooking, especially in Italian-style dishes – think chicken Marsala or tiramisu. With a beautiful hue, it’s no surprise Pantone chose Marsala as the 2015 Colour of the Year!


Originating from the Spanish region of Andalusia, Sherry (or jerez) is another classic fortified wine that has found popularity worldwide. Traditional Sherry is produced within the Sherry Triangle, between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, and as such this particular wine can only be referred to as Sherry if it originates from the triangle. At home, we now refer to Sherry as apera, a play on the word aperitif.

In Spain, Sherry is produced from the palomino grape, with fortification taking place after fermentation – with this, Sherry is primarily a dry drop until sweetened. Sherry is available in a number of styles, and in Australia, we refer to Australian-grown varieties as pale-dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, sweet and cream.

Drier-styles of apera are light, tangy and crisp; dry apero should be drunk straight after opening, as it can quickly lose its flavour. In contrast, sweet apero is rich and complex in flavour and will hold its own after the bottle has been opened.

Although apera was once synonymous with an older generation of wine drinkers, it is still a wine that is used extensively in cooking, cocktails and as a drink on its own to savour.


Argued as being the oldest domesticated wine grape, muscat is appreciated the world- over as a decadent, reliable drop. Muscat wine, ideally made from the muscat blanc à petits grains grape, is a variety unaffected by the European agreement because it is named after the grape, not the region it originated from. Because of this, Australian winemakers may continue to label their wine as muscat.

Harvested late and aged in barrels for varying years, muscat is similar to topaque in that it is

available in four distinct styles: muscat, classic, grand and rare.

Bottled after approximately three to five years, muscat is a clean, floral and spirited drop that can be enjoyed with fruits and ice cream. A must- try for enthusiasts of fortified varieties, muscat is definitely a safe introduction to the variety.

A blend of selected parcels of wine, classic muscat is aged six to ten years and provides a more complex palate and a heavier depth of flavour, while grand muscat is beautiful and moreish, with an even greater dimension of flavour than the classic style, being aged on average between 11 and 19 years.

The pinnacle of a brilliant muscat is the rare style, aged for more than 20 years with a fully- developed, smooth and structured flavour. Rare muscat is named so because few varieties are released that display the hallmark characters of a brilliant rare muscat. If you are lucky enough to try this style, savour this drop on its own – you won’t regret it.


Although vermouth is usually associated with fancy cocktails, it builds on a long tradition of wines being infused with herbs, roots and spices as a medicinal drink. The popular, sweet-style of vermouth was first produced

in Turin, Italy and quickly gained popularity in Italy and France throughout the 1800s.

Sweet vermouth is generally associated with Italy, the homeland of Antonio Benedetto Carpano who created vermouth as we know it today. Made from white wine grapes and coloured with caramel, Australian purveyors of sweet vermouth can use cinnamon, ginger and cloves to create beautiful flavours.

Dry vermouth – commonly referred to as French vermouth – was first produced in the early 1800s by Joseph Noilly. Traditionally white or straw in colour, dry vermouth has more of a bitter taste with the use of orange peel and herbs such as mugwort or gentian, which gives dry vermouth its tang.

Commonly drunk as an aperitif or as part of a cocktail, vermouth has cemented itself as a reliable fortified wine for cooking, or even drinking neat.

Although fortified wines aren’t commonly enjoyed every day, they are the perfect treat. Whether you prefer crisp, light and dry flavours, or rich, nutty and sweet drops, an exploration of fortified varieties – and the joy of discovering your next favourite drink – will allow for a better understanding of wine in all its forms.