Whether we actually have a “cool season” this year seems somewhat in doubt but there’s no harm in preparing for it. Fortifying oneself with appropriate apparel and dietary intake are foremost considerations with the intake suggestion modified slightly to include fortified wines. Ah, the wonders of a portion of Madeira or sherry to round out the day!

Fortified wines don’t get the attention they once did a scant two centuries ago. Then they made up the vast majority of wines consumed in England and all other locales where transit from winery to consumer involved weeks at sea. Before modern micro-pore filtration, refrigeration and additional science the only certain method of wine arriving from European vineyards in drinkable condition was to add an amount of distilled spirits, usually grape brandy, to prevent spoilage. Madeira, Marsala, Sherry, Port and Vermouth, each with its own distinctive taste and production methods, are the most widely known fortified wines.


Madeira from its namesake islands off the coast of Morocco ranges from dry when made from sercial grapes to sweet made from malmsey (malvasia) grapes. Prominent acidity makes even the sweet versions versatile companions to a wide range of desserts. Served slightly chilled the drier sercial Madeira is a treat with everything from soups and cold meats to nuts and cheeses. Slightly oxidized as part of the maturation process it keeps for years even after opened. Cucina is a brand available locally.

Marsala from Sicily gained prominence as a less expensive substitute for sherry and port. High in alcohol compared to Madeira, at between 17% to 20% abv, it’s a pleasant companion in its dry iterations to soups and smoked meats. In sweeter versions it complements cakes and cheeses. Marsala ages well in the bottle but once opened should be consumed within two or three months.

Sherry from the Spanish province of Cadiz is a versatile fortified wine categorized in two overall styles known as fino and oloroso. Fino is lighter in color and lower in alcohol due to a layer of yeast called flor which halts fermentation at about 15.5% alcohol. Oloroso versions are darker oxidized wines that have been fortified with various amounts of brandy depending on sweetness desired.

Most sherry is developed in a solara system in which a portion of the oldest wine is drawn off for bottling and the amount taken is replaced by wine from the next oldest barrel and so on to the youngest wine. This blending process assures consistency in the style and taste of each finished bottle year after year. Fino sherry from Sandeman, Tio Pepe and Osborne is a drier style meant to be served chilled. It’s a fine complement to ham, chicken, fresh sea foods and cheeses. Olorosso can be dry but the majority are sweet and generally called cream sherry. They pair nicely with richer cheeses and ice cream.

Port is considered the premium fortified wine but that’s a story in itself--later. Meanwhile fortify yourself with a change of pace by enjoying Madeira, Marsala and sherry.