Fortified wines come in an enormous range of styles, from nutty, caramel-colored, and earthy aged white wine to dark red and full of fruit red wines. Some are sweet and others are as dry as a bone. 

No matter which style you enjoy, fortified wines are some of the best wines you can buy. Like most full-bodied wines, they benefit from being decanted for several hours or longer. If you want the perfect apéritif or sipping wine to go with a cigar, try a decanted, fortified wine. 

To help you decant a fortified wine like a sommelier, we’ve included several easy-to-follow steps below. Plus, we’ve included all the information you wanted to know about fortified wines, so you’ll be able to appreciate and understand these special wines at your next tasting. 

How to Decant Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are just like any other wine when you’re decanting. They just need a little extra time. Because of their age and sometimes tannin content, it’s important to decant for sediment. 

fortified wines in barrel

The easy thing about decanting fortified wines is their strength. These wines can hold up to the elements, so if you accidentally leave them in the decanter for too long, they will still taste great. 

To help you decant your fortified wine like a sommelier, follow these steps below. Take your time and don’t be afraid to practice at home. 

Stand Your Bottle Up Ahead of Time

Prior to decanting a fortified wine, let it stand upright for at least 24 hours. This lets any sediment fall and collect on the bottom of the bottle. 

If you decant a bottle that’s been lying on its side, the sediment may turn the wine cloudy when you move it. This will make the wine taste bitter and chalky. 

Pour Carefully and Slowly

When transferring your fortified wine to the decanter, pour it slowly and gently. Agitating the wine too much will move the sediment around and make your wine cloudy. 

Stop Pouring at the Right Moment

As you get down to the bottom two or three ounces of wine in your bottle start pouring even slower. Stop pouring immediately once you see sediment crystals nearing the neck of the bottle. Throw away the remaining ounce or two of fortified wine along with the sediment.

Decanting Times

Fortified wines benefit from longer decanting times than other wines. This is because their sugars, high-alcohol, and tannins intensify their flavors and aromas. To get to the complex and subtle qualities of these wines, it helps to let them open up. 

Sherry (30 Minutes to 1 Hour)

Sherry wines are made in Spain and are typically made from white grapes. They have an earthy and sometimes nutty taste with an unctuous texture. You can these wines in sweet or bone dry forms, depending on their style. 

Ruby or Tawny Port (1 to 3 Hours)

Port wines are dark in color and full of fruit flavors. To get them to breathe and let off their tightly wound tannins, you can decant them for over an hour. 

These wines may have sediment, so be prepared to see sediment crystals collect at the bottleneck while you decant them. 

Vermouth (1 to 3 Hours)

Vermouth is a fortified wine made with the addition of botanicals. These herbs and bitters make this wine taste floral and excitingly complex. 

Decanting vermouth will help release the more subtle compounds and aromas. When these wines open up, you may pick up on even more herbal characters and aromas that would be hidden otherwise. 

Madeira (6 hours or more)

This beautiful fortified wine from the island of Madeira is made by being exposed to lots of oxygen and the elements during the aging process. This not only makes it incredibly nutty and richly complex but also makes it suited for long decanting times. 

Decant a Madeira for 6 hours or longer. A handy rule is to decant it an extra 24 hours for every decade it’s aged. 

New to decanting? Read our comprehensive decanting guide

Types of Fortified Wines

Fortified wines were invented when wine needed extra protection for long journeys by ship of overland. To help protect these wines from the sun, sea, and air, winemakers started adding distilled alcohol to the wine. 

port wine are delicious
Graham’s Vintage Port from the Duoro Valley is an excellent introduction to port wines.

Sometimes the winemakers would add the alcohol to the grape juice just as it was fermenting. This stopped the fermentation and preserved the natural sugars in the wine. 

Other times, the alcohol was added at the end of fermentation, creating a dry wine. These styles are typically found in Spain with sherry production. 

Below are some of the most popular types of fortified wine. 

Port 

Port is a fortified wine ranging between 16 to 20 percent alcohol. It’s from Portugal’s Douro Valley, near the city of Porto, and comes in a wide range of styles. 

You can find white, rose, tawny, or ruby ports that are typically sweet and aged several years. Decanting port is a great way to let the individual characteristics and fruit-forward flavors come alive. 

Sherry

These wonderful wines are from the Jerez region of Spain. Sherry is made from muscat, palomino, or pedro ximénez grapes. 

Sherry is fortified with brandy and has an alcohol content from 15 to 18 percent. Sherry encompasses various styles, from the sweet Pedro Ximénez to the dark, dry, and earthy oloroso. 

What makes sherry unique is that winemakers intentionally expose it to air. Then, the winemaker blends different barrels with older barrels to create a hyper aged wine with deep complexity. 

Vermouth

Vermouth is an aromatized and fortified wine. Winemakers add a blend of fruits, herbs, spices, and bitters to make something truly unique. 

Vermouth comes in several varieties. The most common are dry vermouth, common in France, and sweet vermouth, common in Italy and Spain. 

Vermouth usually has between 15 to 20 percent alcohol. Although most people use vermouth in cocktails, there are plenty of high-end varieties that make excellent sipping wines or aperitifs. 

Marsala

Marsala, a fortified wine from Sicily in Southern Italy, is available in both dry and sweet varieties. Crafted from white Italian grapes, Marsala contains between 15 and 20 percent alcohol. 

Although it’s typically used for cooking, you can find incredible varieties that are both delicious and versatile. Like sherry, these wines benefit from 30 minutes to an hour in the decanter. 

Madeira 

Named after Portugal’s Madeira Islands, this fortified wine undergoes plenty of exposure to the elements in the form of heat and air. This makes them incredibly rich and earthy, with carmel tones and a nuttiness found nowhere else. 

Madeira wines span a spectrum from dry aperitifs to sweet dessert wines. They are typically between 18 to 20 percent alcohol. 

What Makes Decanted Fortified so Delicious

Fortified wines are immensely complex and full of flavors and aromas that no other wine has. These wines are made to be some of the most age-worthy and sought after wines on the planet. 

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Decanting fortified wines makes them soften up and breathe. This lets their unique qualities shine through the glass. 

If you’ve never tried a fortified wine, grab a bottle near you and break out your decanter. Decant your wine for as long as you need and serve. You’ll be blown away by how intense and delicious your decanted, fortified wine can be.