Glistening and luminous in color with rich and complex aromas, have you ever tried Italian fortified wine? Whilst Marsala is the most wine known kind of fortified wine in Italy, there are others waiting to be drunk! These delicious styles of wine are complex and often reveal notes of caramel and honey, almonds and spices, figs and dried apricot, and candied orange peel. Sound like your kind of thing? Keep reading to find out what exactly fortified wine (or vini liquorosi) are, when to drink them, how to serve them, and our favorite types to try in 2023.
What is fortified wine?
First things first, what does fortified wine mean? Fortified wines are wines that have a distilled spirit added to ‘fortify’ them. A fortified wine is made from a wine base (of at least 12% alcohol) that is ‘fortified’ with a distilled spirit to increase its alcohol content. They usually sit around 17-20% alcohol content and have a high concentration of sugar (although you can find dry versions). You can find fortified wines ranging from a yellow hay-like color to a dark crystalline brown. They tend to be very smooth and have a long finish.
Italian fortified wine brands
When it comes to the different types of fortified wines, the most popular are Marsala, Spanish Sherry, Port from Portugal and Madeira. But did you know that vermouth and Barolo Chinato are also fortified wines? Here are some popular brands of Italian fortified wine to try:
Best Fortified Italian Wine to Try in 2023
Curious to try fortified Italian wine on your next trip (or order some online to try at home)? Here’s our list of the best Italian fortified wine to try in 2023!
1. Marsala fortified wine – from Florio
This delicious Sicilian fortified wine needs little introduction – it is very popular in Italy and well-known worldwide. You can find this fortified wine in Sicily in the Western areas of Trapani, Pantelleria, Favignana and Alcamo. There are three different colors to choose from – gold, amber and ruby- which also indicate the grapes used to produce it. Gold and amber marsala are made using Grillo, Catarratto, Damaschino and Inzolia, whilst Pignatello, nero d’Abola and Nerello Mascalese are used for the rarer ruby Marsala.
Sicily-fortified wine isn’t always sweet though! You can find dry, semi-dry, and of course sweet Italian wine marsala versions. Dating back to 1832, Florio is one of the most famous producers in Marsala and a great starting point for trying Marsala. Try their 2016 Superiore Secco as an entry point dry style wine, or the same in their ‘dolce’ sweet version. There are notes of acacia honey and vanilla on the nose and delicious bread crust in the palette.
2. Barolo Chinato – from Cappellano and Cocchi
From Piedmont, Barolo Chinato is an aromatic wine made with a wine of at least 10% alcohol and fortified with a good quality distilled spirit, sugar, and extracts or infusions of herbs and spices. The very best versions are best paired with chocolate-based desserts or artisan chocolates. Made from the king of Italian wine – Barolo DOCG- there are up to 30 different herbs and spices added including quinine and a little sugar.
Giuseppe Cappellano and Giulio Cocchi are the original creators of this delicious after-dinner drink. Try the Cocchi version- the perfect blend of bitter-sweet. Whilst the blend of herbs and spices in the recipe is a secret, we know they use rhubarb root, gentian root and cardamom seeds.
The creator was a pharmacist in the Langhe town of Serralunga d’Alba. His drink was once consumed as a remedy for colds and ailments, and is now enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. The Cappellano take on Barolo Chinato has a steeper price point. There are notes of licorice, marjoram, rhubarb and coriander on the nose, whilst the is soft and bitter with a long finish.
3. Vermouth – from Carpano and Mulassano
Vermouth is Italy’s most famous aromatic wine and also hails from Andrea’s native Piedmont. Created for the first time in Torino by Carpano in 1786, the tradition of enjoying a glass of vermouth bianco or rosso (white or red) is still alive and well at aperitivo hour in Turin. However, in the rest of the country and around the world it’s more commonly used to prepare cocktails like the Manhattan, Negroni and Martini.
White Vermouth can be found either sweet or dry, whilst red vermouth is a little sweeter thanks to the addition of caramel. Carpano’s vermouth uses vanilla, saffron, wormwood, and burnt sugar to create its famous drink and has a delicious rich vanilla flavor balanced out by bitter orange, dates, cocoa beans and saffron.
We love the Red Vermouth from Caffe Mulassano, an iconic bar in Turin. It’s prepared using spices, caramel and Moscato wine and has a really spicy and herbaceous nose with a fresh and delicate flavor.
How to drink fortified wine?
Now that your tastebuds are tingling, you might be wondering how to serve fortified wine and when to drink it! These wines are designed to be drunk chilled or over ice. In Torino, vermouth is a very popular aperitivo or pre-dinner drink whilst sweeter styles like Marsala can be served as an Italian after-dinner wine. These wines are even used in cocktails and of course, are great for cooking.
The typical fortified wine glass has a round body and slightly tapered sides. Many people tend to use tiny glasses, but a slightly larger glass is ideal as it allows you to swirl the wine without spilling it and enjoy the incredible aromas. The serving sizes range from 75ml for sweeter wines to 100mls for dry fortified wine.
How long does fortified wine last?
Thanks to the fortifying process, these wines last a lot longer than traditional bottles. Fortified dessert wine like Marsala can last between 4-6 months once opened and should be kept in a dark, cool place. Whilst Marsala doesn’t “go-off’ it will start to lose a lot of its flavor and aromas after this.
Meanwhile, Vermouth lasts for around 2 months after opening and should be kept stored in the fridge. Barolo Chinato is best drunk within a couple weeks of opening due to its low alcohol content.
Try sweet fortified dessert wine in 2023
Inspired to try a dry or sweet fortified dessert wine? We love enjoying a glass of vermouth before dinner – it’s a typical Torinese thing to do and takes us back to the elegant city immediately. Next time you’re in Italy, why not ask for a ‘vino liquoroso‘ instead of a typical spritz at aperitivo hour to start discovering these incredibly perfumed wines for yourself?