The Secret To The Best Sauces Is A Few Splashes Of Fortified Wine

At the mention of fortified wine, aperitifs and desserts often come to mind. It's typical to pour a glass of sherry or Americano aperitif before dinner or a glass of Port to enjoy as a dessert wine, but fortified wine also doubles as a cooking agent. Add a few splashes to your next sauce, and you'll be wowed with incredibly intense flavors.

Fortified wines are made by adding grape or distilled spirits like brandy to wine during fermentation. While traditional wines contain 10%-15% alcohol by volume (ABV), fortified wines carry 17%-20% percent ABV. Consequently, adding spirits halts the fermentation process. Yeast is stopped from eating up the sugar in wine, leaving the resulting fortified wine with a high sugar content.

The final flavor profile of fortified wine is acutely sweet and rich, and when you add a fortified wine like Marsala to chicken sauce, you get the creamy chicken Marsala. Sweet, woody, and rich, this wine asserts itself throughout the dish. When married with the sauce, it's not the alcohol that shines through but rather enhancing semi-sugary and floral notes.

How to cook a sauce with fortified wine

There are a couple of ways to employ fortified wine in your sauce, including deglazing. After frying your aromatics, add a splash of fortified wine to dissolve the residue at the bottom of your pan and reintroduce it into your sauce. After that, give the sauce a good stir and leave it to reduce until it's thick.

Reducing fortified wine has dual perks: It evaporates the alcohol and concentrates the flavors. We added dry sherry to our steakhouse mushroom sauce recipe and let it reduce into a complex sauce with deliciously nutty notes that make you want to keep scooping it. If cooking a Marsala sauce, you can add dry Marsala and chicken stock to your sauteed aromatics and allow it to reduce for 10 minutes. The result is a sauce with sweet notes you'll appreciate. 

Port is a fortified wine laced with berry aromas and, in other cases, chocolatey notes. You can add Port wine and butter to demi-glace (a thick beef sauce) at the end and serve the sauce without reducing it. Or, you can add Madeira wine to a dessert caramel and let its natural caramel-like flavor profile amp up the sauce.