Fortified wine is wine that contains a distilled spirit, such as brandy.

In addition to its higher alcohol content, fortified wine boasts a unique flavor and aroma that sets it apart from regular varieties.

Still, both types share similarities, especially when it comes to their health benefits and potential downsides.

This article reviews the types, benefits, and downsides of fortified wine.

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Before modern refrigeration, fortified wine was produced in an attempt to prevent wine spoilage by increasing its alcohol content (1).

Wine undergoes a process called fermentation, which occurs when yeast converts the sugar from the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide (2).

Distilled spirits like brandy are added at varying times during the fermentation process, which boosts the alcohol content and alters the flavor of the final product.

If the spirits are added before the fermentation process is complete, the fortified wine acquires a sweeter taste. Conversely, the wine tends to be more dry if the spirits are added later.

Both sweet and dry varieties are often served as aperitifs or digestifs before or after meals to help stimulate appetite and digestion.

Some types are also used in cooking to add a delicious twist to your favorite recipes.

Summary Fortified wine is produced by adding distilled spirits to wine during or after fermentation. It’s available in both dry and sweet varieties, often served before or after meals or used in cooking.

Several types of fortified wine are available, each differing in flavor and production method.

Here are the most common types of fortified wine:

  • Port wine. This type originates in Portugal but is now produced worldwide. Brandy is added to the wine before it has finished fermenting, resulting in a sweeter flavor.
  • Sherry. Sherry is available in several varieties based on the type of grapes used. Though it’s traditionally dry, it’s sometimes sweetened and served as a dessert wine.
  • Madeira. Originating in the Portuguese Madeira Islands, this type is heated and oxidized by exposing it to air. Brandy is added at different times during fermentation, causing variations in flavors.
  • Marsala. Marsala is a common cooking wine that’s fortified after fermentation, giving it a distinct dry flavor. It’s also sometimes sweetened, making it a great addition to dessert recipes.
  • Vermouth. Available both dry and sweet, vermouth is a fortified white wine that’s often flavored with herbs and spices like cloves and cinnamon. It’s also used to make cocktails like martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis.
Summary Many types of fortified wine are available, each varying based on their unique flavor and production method.

Like regular wine, fortified wine may offer several health benefits.

Rich in antioxidants

Fortified wine is high in antioxidants, which are powerful compounds that help neutralize free radicals to protect against cell damage and chronic disease (3).

In particular, wine contains antioxidants like catechin, epicatechin, and proanthocyanidins (4).

Red wine is also rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant thought to aid conditions like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (5, 6, 7).

Note that red wine may be higher in antioxidants, as it’s made using the skin of grapes, which are especially high in these beneficial compounds (8).

Additionally, research shows that your body may not absorb the antioxidants in fortified wine well, so it’s best to focus on getting the majority of your intake from nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables (9).

Supports heart health

Some research suggests that moderate wine intake may benefit heart health (10, 11).

In fact, studies indicate that light to moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, as well as a 30% reduced risk of dying from heart disease (12).

What’s more, one 4-week study in 69 people found that drinking red wine increased levels of HDL (good) cholesterol by up to 16% (13).

HDL cholesterol helps clear fatty plaque build-up from your arteries, which may reduce heart disease risk (14).

Keep in mind that heavy drinking can harm your heart and contribute to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is a disease that impairs your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently (15).

May protect against chronic disease

Some studies note that fortified wine may help prevent several chronic conditions.

For example, one large study showed that long-term, moderate wine intake was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in women with excess weight (16).

Other research suggests that drinking wine may improve mental and brain health by lowering your risk of depression and dementia (17, 18, 19, 20).

Moderate wine intake has also been tied to a reduced risk of several types of cancer, including colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers (21, 22, 23).

Summary Fortified wines contain antioxidants, including resveratrol, catechin, and epicatechin. In moderation, drinking fortified wine may be associated with improved heart health and a lower risk of several chronic conditions.

Drinking fortified wine in excess may be associated with several adverse health effects.

High in calories

Compared with regular wine, fortified wine is often higher in calories.

Ounce for ounce, dessert wines like sherry can pack nearly double the calories of red wine (24, 25).

Though fortified wine is typically drunk in smaller servings than regular wine, going overboard can cause calories to stack up quickly, increasing your risk of weight gain.

Therefore, it’s important to moderate your intake and stick to one to two servings per day.

The serving size can vary based on the wine type and alcohol content, but one serving of fortified wine is usually about 3 ounces (88 ml).

Contains more alcohol

Fortified wine has a much higher alcohol content than regular varieties.

Due to the addition of distilled spirits, such as brandy, fortified wines can contain 17–20% alcohol, compared with 10–15% for traditional wine.

Regularly consuming high amounts of alcohol can cause alcohol dependence, which can trigger withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued (26).

What’s more, excessive alcohol intake can contribute to liver disease, weight gain, brain damage, and heart failure (27, 28, 29, 30).

Limiting your daily alcohol intake is the best way to prevent adverse effects.

Moderate drinking is defined as one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two for men in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (31).

High in sugar

Compared with many other types of alcohol, wine is naturally higher in sugar, as it’s made from grapes.

Fortified wine packs even more sugar, as many varieties are made by adding spirits to the wine during the fermentation process before the sugars have been converted into alcohol.

Other types are sweetened after fermentation, boosting their sugar content further.

Sweet dessert wines like port wines harbor approximately 7 grams of sugar per 3-ounce (88-ml) serving (24).

Consuming high amounts of sugar has been linked to a host of health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, liver problems, and heart disease (32).

For this reason, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting your added sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily calories, which translates to about 50 grams on a standard 2,000-calorie diet (31).

This means that just one glass of fortified wine can knock out about 14% of your daily limit for added sugar, which is why it’s important to enjoy this sweet treat in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

Summary Fortified wine is high in calories and contains sugar and alcohol, both of which have been linked to adverse effects when consumed in excess.

Fortified wine is wine that contains a distilled spirit like brandy.

Common varieties include port wine, sherry, and vermouth. They differ in flavor based on their ingredients and degree of fermentation.

Though moderate intake of fortified wine may offer health benefits, drinking it in excess may harm your health.

Therefore, it’s best to limit your intake and enjoy fortified wine as an occasional treat as part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.