Fortified wines are wines that even many wine geeks don’t know much about. So I will start with most basic of basics. Fortified wines are wines that have had alcohol added to them, most often brandy. This started as a way to preserve wines. In the days before modern transportation, shipping wine was a hazardous business. It still is sometimes. Hot or freezing weather poorly sealed or handled casks could all ruin wine. Alcohol acts as a natural preservative. If added during fermentation it stops fermentation leaving more sugar. The process was discovered around the sixteenth century and became popular at the end of the seventeenth century. Sweet wines were much more popular then.
Many fortified wines have a historical association with Britain. For much of its history Britain did not produce much wine and never enough to meet demand. So the bulk of the wine consumed there was shipped. Also, the British tended to be at war with its nearest wine supplier, France. So they turned to other places such as southern Spain (Sherry) and Portugal (Port). This is why many reputable Port and Sherry houses have British names.
Any wine can be fortified and so there is a huge range of flavors, degrees of sweetness colors and textures available. People who don’t have much experience may taste one or two and think they don’t care for fortified wines. That happened to me. I had tasted a few Sherries. I didn’t like them. Truth is I have yet to taste a Sherry I really liked. Then I tasted a good vintage Port and wow. Even before that I had tried and enjoyed Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, a desert wine from the Rhone Valley in France, without realizing it was fortified. So if you don’t care for Port or Sherry, try a Madera, Marsala, or even a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Enjoy.