This term, as used in the U.K., means a wine literally made stronger – that is ‘fortified’ – by the addition of brandy at some stage in its production. Sherry, port, Malaga and Marsala are the best-known examples. Recently a definition of the term for EEC countries encountered problems because the French, who do not make wines that are fortified in this way (vins doux naturels are slightly different), wished the term to be vin de liqueur. This was opposed by Britain, because of the obvious confusion that would be risked by the use of the term liqueur’ in relation to a wine. In EEC documents, however, this is now adopted except in the U.K.
In the U.S., however, it seems that the term is still under discussion. In the early part of the 20th century, it was the practice there to categorise as ‘dry’ any wines under 14% of alcohol by volume, and as ‘sweet’ those wines over 14%. Obviously, this was wholly unsatisfactory – a great Sauternes or trockenbeerenauslesecan hardly be associated with the term ‘dry’, and how can a superb fino be categorised as ‘sweet’? In the 1930s, the North Americans altered the nomenclature to ‘light’ and ‘fortified’, but this still did not satisfy them: for some reason that I do not understand, the term ‘fortified’ appeared to risk abuse. It is, however, stupid to denounce the word, as does one contemporary authority, as ‘misleading’ and to say that it ‘was originally coined by the British who still stubbornly cling to it despite our (the U.S.) appeals to change’. (Why the logical use of an English word should be misleading and why those who speak the English language as it is generally understood in the British Isles should, for any reason, be prevented from using it? Just one more argument in favour of distinguishing between ‘American’ and ‘English’ English!)
Some Americans apparently would have liked to substitute the terms ‘appetizer and dessert wines’ for ‘fortified’, although this was not permitted. The advertising controls in the U.S. Are tight. The English speaker can only be thankful that such a clumsy and misleading phrase was avoided. The Americans are now not allowed to use the term ‘fortified’ on labels or even in wineries: instead of ‘fortifying room’, the sign on the door must read ‘brandy addition room’.
The U.S. have had further problems because, in stating the alcoholic strength on labels, some firms were stressing this – thereby implying that strength was equivalent to quality. Regulations now limit the type size in which strength is stated and it appears that there is now a more general use of the term ‘table wine’ for what the U.K. Would refer to as light wines. There are some states in the U.S. That still require labels to give the alcoholic strength, whereas in the majority this is optional.