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A fortified wine differs from other wines in that it is 'fortified' with additional alcohol during the production process. Fortified wines include Port, Marsala, Madeira and Sherry.
Fortified wines have been produced in Australia for many years. In the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Grenache grapes have been used for the production of Port for many years, and today, the region is famous for both its red and white Ports.
Fortified wines can be either dry or sweet, and this is the result of both the type of grape that used to produce the wine, as well as which stage of fermentation the additional alcohol is added. If the wine is allowed to develop fully before alcohol is added, usually in wooden casks, the sugars in the grapes will already have been converted to alcohol, making the wine dryer. If the alcohol is added earlier in the process, the still present sugars make for a sweeter fortified wine. Brandy, which is a distilled alcohol made from grapes, is commonly the alcohol used to fortify the wine, but other types of neutral alcohol are also used, such as those distilled from grains, sugar beets or sugar cane.
Fortified wines have developed in many areas across the world. For example, in 1772, English merchant John Woodhouse sought to create a cheaper alternative to Port and Sherry while living in the Sicilian port city of Marsala, which was to become the namesake of the wine. Sherry originated in Spain, taking its Anglicised name from the town of 'Jerez', where it was first produced.
Port was first produced in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The second known recipe for Vermouth, another style of fortified wine perhaps best known as one of the ingredients in a Martini cocktail, was created by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Turin, Italy. Vermouth is a fortified wine that is flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices, and while the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, some of those spices are thought to be cardamom and cinnamon.
Many fortified wines make an excellent after-dinner drink, and are slowly sipped in order for their deep and complex flavours to be fully appreciated.
Cooking with fortified wines can bring out the flavours of many foods, both sweet and savoury. A Christmas trifle, for example, would not be the same without the inclusion of a good quality Sherry. Port can be used for stewing fruits, and is particularly good with pears when combined with spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and star anise, and makes an excellent jus base for red meat.