What is the spirit level of the finished product...?

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How much of a fortified wine is spirit?

Charles Cook, London asks: How much of the finished product is spirit (as opposed to the actual wine) in fortified wines?

Sally Easton replies: When making fortified wine – such as Port, Sherry or vin doux naturel (VDN) – wine is ‘fortified’ with spirit.

In Sherry, Madeira, VDNs and Australia’s Rutherglen Muscats and Topaques, no flavour from the spirit is wanted in the wine, so highly rectified, neutral, grape spirit of about 95% alcohol by volume is used (rectification is the process of repeated distillation to remove flavour compounds).

This is especially important in fortified wines that extol the characters of the grape variety, such as the Muscat-based VDNs of the Rhône, Languedoc and Roussillon. Here, about 10% of the finished wine comprises spirit.

Port is the exception to this highly rectified rule. An integral part of Port’s constitution is the complex, spirit-derived notes that come from fortifying with grape spirit at 77% abv.

In Port, about 20% of the finished product comprises spirit.

Whatever the level of rectification, in all fortified wines, the quality level of the spirit used plays an important role in the overall quality of the finished wine.

Sally Easton MW is author of Vines and Vinification (WSET, £25)

This question first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Decanter magazine, subscribe to Decanter here.


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